Federal Budget Debate: What Would Jesus Say?

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis), chairman of the House Budget Committee, contends that his approach to the proposed federal budget is shaped by his worldview as a Catholic Christian.

Not so, say some of his fellow Catholics, along with Protestant allies on the "social-liberal" wing. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) says she's a Christian too, and that her faith-based worldview guides the way she goes about "framing public policy." Fifty-nine religious leaders who signed a Faith in Public Life (FPL) statement opposing Ryan think their worldview leads them to different policy positions than Ryan's.

Who is right? What does the federal budget have to do with this? Isn't the allocation of expenditures the territory of gnomes in the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office? What do religiously shaped politicians and theologians have to do with budgetary policy?

Bishop Timothy Nolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, answers the question: "The budget is not just about numbers. It reflects the very values of our nation… budgets are moral statements."

The federal budget is a primary tool of implementing the moral philosophy and agenda of a governing regime. Taxation molds the wet clay of personal priorities and social behavior, and government budgeting provides the shaping tools.

The Claremont Institute's Edward J. Erler believes there was a calculated decision by "America's political and intellectual elites" to enact the Income Tax Amendment-the 16th Amendment-in 1913 "to transform the limited constitutional government of the Framers into what is today called the welfare state." The aim, he says, is "the promotion of a concept of 'social justice' that is alien to the principles of the American founding."

And it's all done through the gadgetry of the federal budget. For example, prior to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society welfare expansion and the broadening of the "entitlements" concept, two-thirds of the federal budget was discretionary-meaning it could be cut. Currently, only a third of the budget is discretionary, including defense spending. The rest is mandated by laws passed by congressional shapers of the public agenda.

And they all have a worldview arising from their religious-or secular-beliefs.

Actually both Ryan and his critics in the religious community share the same concern for the poor. The issue is how poverty is treated, reduced and eradicated. Ryan says that his Catholic faith teaches "don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into life of independence."

But Ryan's budget "is morally indefensible," and "turns its back on the hungry, the elderly and the sick while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few," say the FPL signers. Such an approach, they say, "can't be justified in Christian terms."

So who's right?

Jesus said that the "fruit," or outcome, of belief is the test of its authenticity. The 1965 Great Society legislation and subsequent budgets intensified the poverty-welfare cycle that has led to the widespread dependency of our day. The European welfare state has demoralized that culture. And we all know the tragic outcomes of the Marxist approach to economic and social leveling.

It is truly "morally indefensible" to turn one's back on the genuinely poor and helpless. "What does the LORD require of you," asks Micah, "but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Justice" mandates identifying and helping those unable to free themselves from the wearying wheel of the poverty-welfare cycle. But it is "morally indefensible" to tighten the chains of dependency to that life-destroying system. It is also "morally indefensible" to bind future generations to a debt load that in less than a decade will outstrip America's gross domestic product, and yoke many more to stifling welfarism.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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