Recently, the Christian Post reported on two approaches to the ongoing budget reform process being advocated by two faith-based groups, Christians for a Sustainable Economy and the Circle of Protection. As an active participant in the CASE effort, I found reporter Napp Nazworth’s piece to be an accurate and fair representation of our group. I commend the article to anyone interested in the ongoing debate over our alternative vision of a Christian approach to the current fiscal crisis. This summer, as the launch of CASE reverberated throughout the blogosphere, Sojourners Communications Director Tim King and I agreed that we should build on the momentum of both groups, moving toward actually accomplishing something while demonstrating that Christians who disagree should stand as models of political engagement. So it was no surprise to me that The Post piece ends with a quote from Wallis in which he encourages our groups to continue to dialogue in ways that are “honest and specific, and, of course, civil.”
I’m taking it upon myself to accept Jim’s invitation. Below are some specific questions for the Circle of Protection. I’ve tried to avoid getting mired in “who said what” and “gotcha” tactics. My hope is to get clear, specific answers and to be asked a few questions in return so that we move the discussion forward and positively contribute to this important ongoing national conversation.1. Wallis says, “The Circle does not seek to protect all government programs for the poor from any budget cuts.” He also says the Circle aims to defend only, “the most effective anti-poverty efforts both at home and around the world.” But the Circle of Protection statement says, “Funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.” These statements appear to conflict. What is the position of The Circle on cutting poverty spending? 2. If The Circle does indeed affirm that only “effective” poverty programs are worthy of protection, by what standard do they determine a program’s effectiveness? Which programs currently fail that standard? Should programs that fail the standard of effectiveness be cut? What about programs that are effective, but are also determined to be wasteful or duplicative? Should cost-saving reforms be implemented to such programs? 3. Wallis says, “The Bible has no objection, in my view, to making the wealthy pay their fair share, which is more than they are paying now, and I think most Christians would agree with that.” In this, Wallis joins President Obama in using an undefined term to make the case for higher taxes. What does a “fair” tax code look like for The Circle? Would the system retain income bracketing? What would the marginal rates be? What other forms of tax would be included (capital gains, death tax)? What tax expenditures would be retained and which would be eliminated? And what is it about your proposed system that makes it fair? 4. CASE is in full agreement with The Circle statement that commends economic growth as the “best path out of poverty.” The CASE letter states: “We believe the poor of this generation and generations to come are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth, that encourage productivity and creativity in every able person, and that wisely steward our common resources for generations to come. All Americans – especially the poor – are best served by sustainable economic policies for a free and flourishing society. When creativity and entrepreneurship are rewarded, the yield is an increase of productivity and generosity.” What policies does The Circle believe should be enacted this year to promote economic growth? 5. CASE also agrees with The Circle that entitlement reform must be considered as a means to deficit and debt reduction. How would the Circle of Protection reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to both ensure the solvency of these important programs and alter the skyrocketing projected deficits forecast under current law?
Circle—the ball is in your court.