The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.
It is patently evident now that when it comes to giving tax breaks to the wealthy Republicans in Congress have abandoned all moral guides to pursue their heartless agenda of appeasing their benefactors at the expense of vulnerable people across the country.
With Senate Republicans still struggling on their version of “health care” reform in which the Better Care Reconciliation Act aims to take health insurance away from over 20 million people and make everyone else pay more for less coverage in order to give the top 400 wealthiest people billions of dollars in tax breaks, Republicans in the House returned to their task of trying to introduce a budget bill.
It was not surprising to learn that according to The Huffington Post House Republicans are in a feud over how much to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Notice that it is not whether or not to make cuts, but how much should be cut.
This essential assistance program for millions of people across the country to be able to feed themselves and their families always comes under endless scrutiny though it is only a tiny fraction of the overall discretionary spending within the farm bill and in the overall federal budget.
Cutting waste, fraud, and abuse is the story often used to justify such cruel cuts that take food out of the mouths of innocent children. People need to work. The government is not a charity. These too are chanted in the halls of power and in homes across the country with little understanding of the entrapment of poverty, the structural obstacles that need to be overcome, and how having a job is not the sole solution to financial freedom, especially when the minimum wage is a starvation wage and not a living wage.
The efficiency excuse is even harder to swallow when one discovers that it is not for lack of money that these cruel cuts are said to be necessary. Rather Republicans believe that children need to go hungry so that they can give another tax break to the wealthiest people in the country and continually increase defense spending.
Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told HuffPost:
“Over the years, SNAP has essentially been an ATM machine for Republicans so they can pay for increases in defense spending and tax cuts.”
Strange that it is never the other way around. Strange that defense spending is not cut just a little or a tax break for the wealthy forfeited so that one of the governments biggest and most successful safety net programs may be strengthened and not strangled.
Yet, Republicans continue to tout the benefit of giving tax cuts to the rich because the increased wealth at the top will somehow magically trickle down to everyone below. Here’s a reality check. One does not need to be Robert Reich or Paul Krugman to know that trickle-down economics is a failed experiment and an utter lie.
Whether through so called “health care” legislation or budgetary plans, Republicans in Congress never fail to find a way to transfer wealth from the people who have the least to the people who have the most.
I am not sure how anyone with common sense and a moral compass can see how making cuts to a social safety net program that enables children to have food on the table constitutes having “family values”.
Sean Colarossi summed up the feud over food stamps this way:
“How many Americans should be unable to feed their families just so taxes can be lowered for the wealthy? That’s essentially the question they’re asking themselves now.”
The Bible is full of feeding stories from the miraculous manna Israel received in their wilderness journey to the flour and oil that provided for Elijah, the widow at Zarephath, and her family in the midst of a drought. Jesus too is constantly feeding people and banqueting with the rich and poor alike. Read the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is often stirring up trouble by who he is feeding and with whom he chooses to have banquet meals.
One feeding story appears in all four Gospels. In Matthew’s version, it begins with the disciples wanting Jesus to send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages to buy food for themselves for they are in a deserted place and the hour is now late. But Jesus tells his disciples the crowds need not go away, you give them something to eat. The astonished disciples wonder how that is going to be done when all they have are five loaves of bread and two fish. Over five thousand were fed that evening the story concludes and twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered.
This story of the feeding of the multitudes comes to mind when I think of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program because like those few loaves and fish this slice of the federal budget is comparably small. Its section on a pie chart is barely visible. Yet the return on investment of these dollars that help feed children and families across the country is immeasurable. The return of dollars invested in this safety net program is like that of the loaves Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives to feed the people. There is more at the end of the meal than the beginning. So also with these dollars that enable parents to provide food for their children so they do not have hunger pains in school enabling them to focus and learn without the distraction of a hungry aching stomach.
Who knows what anxieties are relieved in parents who know they have this money to stretch their food budget a little farther and what children are able to achieve having had the basic wonder of a decent meal? More these dollars are immediately invested in local economies across the country and not put away in investment accounts. Thus, these dollars are an immediate and regular stimulus in the economy.
This week as we celebrate our country’s founding and independence let us also remember our deepest shared moral values that unite us across every division. Let us see the humanity and dignity in our hungry neighbors who need the help of our social safety nets. Let us remember that one of the most patriotic things we can do is to care for the hungry through the budgetary process. The allocation of financial resources is a moral exercise and budgets are moral documents that reflect our values.