Morality and the Administration’s Proposed Budget

The Administration has just submitted its budget proposal to Congress.  Months of negotiation and compromises will follow.  The proposal in itself deserves moral evaluation.  Every budget– whether it is that of a business, a family, or a church– contains many moral decisions.  All human social creations reflect moral decisions as they include choices as to how people will be treated.   Fundamental to all viable moral systems is the foundation of treating each human being with the dignity due all human beings.  But particular moral perspectives assume their own history, relativity, and perspective.  Christian ethics drawing upon “The love of Neighbor,” ”Treating the least of these like Christ,” and “Letting justice flow down like a river,” deepens our critique of the budget.

In this short essay, the historical perspectives of General Assembly policy are followed, but not footnoted.  Sources are provided for the decisions of the late 20th and early 21st Century General Assemblies in an endnote.  In these assemblies, a representative process of laity and clergy decide about moral perspectives for the Presbyterian Church on social policy. 

The budget just proposed reduces expenditures for diplomacy while adding billions to develop new nuclear weapons and technology for war in space.  These sharp jumps to increase U.S. dominance in military spending for nuclear war preparation/ deterrence contradict the General Assembly’s just-peacemaking policies.  Continuing to reduce taxes for the very wealthy while reducing financial help for the poor in education, housing, and health care violates the church’s consistent teaching to aid the poor.  The budget takes funds that subsidize higher education student loans.  Federal spending on Medicare is reduced in the budget in contradiction to church policy that encourages spending to provide health care to the poor and immigrants.  While the church has strongly supported public education, the budget weakens the Department of Education and cuts funding for rural schools and for the homeless.  In general the Education Department would be reduced in staff, function and importance.

The budget continues funds for the Affordable Care Act while the Administration pursues its elimination through the courts.  There is an Accountable Care sub category for providers but it is not the main legal target. The budget proposal is not totally misconceived.  It continues some helpful “middle class” domestic policies while generally reducing help to the most needy.  For instance, the raises in military salaries are offset by reducing aid to the needy.  In general the budget continues the trend toward military-capitalism with significant non-draconian cuts to the trends toward welfare-capitalism.  The military-war budget of the U.S. represents the largest socialized entity in the world, providing more than $750 Billion in government funds for subsidized industries and cradle-to-grave care for millions.  Taking a few billion for the symbolic border wall will hardly hurt the military budget, but it will further militarize the border, strengthen a cruel prison and detention system, and damage our diplomacy.

Alternative energy is not a priority as the budget virtually represents climate change denial. It also weakens environmental protections as auto-immune disorders and other problems in humans increase, on top of severe threats to many species.

Certainly Presbyterians, aware of their General Assembly’s teaching, will want to resist this budget as proposed.  A final note on the proposed budget is that it continues lowering taxes for the rich while increasing the deficit and the national debt.  National debt increases while disproportionate private wealth increases.

NOTE: Selected policy statements and studies, both long and short:
Hope for A Global Future (1996)
Just Peacemaking (1998)
Social Creed booklet (2008)
World of Hurt, Word of Life (2012)
Tax Justice (2014)

Dr. Stone is pictured here giving a copy of his most recent book to Mr. James Comey, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the meeting of the Social Ethics Network in Washington.

Ronald Stone, former John Witherspoon Professor of Christian Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, taught Business/Economic Ethics and contributed the church’s economic thinking in an essay on John Calvin’s economic ethic in Robert Stivers, ed. Reformed Faith and Economics. He also edited Reformed Faith and Politics, among his many books.