Demystifying the Debt Crisis
By Frank Wright, Ph.D., President & CEO
July 15, 2011
Most Americans have been listening to discussion of a Balanced Budget Amendment for the better part of three decades. Every year during his tenure, President Ronald Reagan asked Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to balance the federal budget. In 1982 the Senate complied, passing a balanced budget amendment that failed in the House. In 1996, the House passed a balanced budged amendment but it failed in the Senate. After 30 years of economic booms – and busts – the hot potato continues to bounce back and forth. Once again the issue is on the calendar for Congressional consideration.
As one of the very first bills introduced in January on the first day of legislative business, The Balanced Budget Amendment, H.J. Res. 1, is expected to come to the House Floor next Wednesday. The legislation requires a balanced federal budget, caps federal spending at 18% of gross domestic product (GDP), and requires a 2/3-majority vote of the House and Senate in order to raise taxes. Unfortunately, the vote on the amendment is expected to fall very much within party lines: House Republicans will generally support it, and House Democrats are generally expected to vote against it. Congressional Quarterly quotes Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) as saying the H.J. Res. 1 vote will be a “prelude” to a vote on H.J. Res. 2 – a less-restrictive balanced budget amendment that removes the federal spending cap and eliminates the super-majority needed for tax increases. Many Members of Congress, predicts Rep. Goodlatte, see attaching H.J. Res. 2 to any debt-ceiling agreement deal as a win-win, since it would allow Members of Congress to begin the August recess by proclaiming commitment to balancing the federal budget as a matter of law.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, the “Gang of Six” Senators – really now only five since Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) left their group months ago – has presented a plan to cut the deficit by $3.6 trillion over the next 10 years. While Senate Budget Chairman (and group member) Kent Conrad (D-ND) declared that these are real numbers with “[n]o phony baselines, no gimmicks,” $3.6 trillion is only a drop in the proverbial bucket when one considers how large the deficit will grow in the next 10 years. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stood on the Senate Floor this week and blasted those Members of Congress who are standing in the way of what he believes should be decided in the debt ceiling negotiations with the White House. “It’s time to put our economy and the country first,” said the Majority Leader.
Let’s be frank. Very few Members of Congress are really putting the economy – or the country – first. Federal spending has been on the rise for more than a decade, and it’s unfortunate that a crisis is required to make our elected politicians talk seriously about cutting spending or balancing the federal budget. After all, most families in the United States have a budget, and every adult learns fairly quickly that life gets out of control when one spends far beyond one’s means. For those who had not learned that lesson, the economic downturn of the last four years has no doubt been instructive.
The fundamental problems facing our nation in this debt crisis are philosophical, and, more importantly, spiritual. Obviously, our economy is an incredibly complex machine, as are the political processes of our federal government. Having spent 17 years working on and around Capitol Hill, I am well acquainted with their intricacies. Yet in the face of the weighty political and economic discussions dominating our national consciousness this week, I suspect that even many Christians have forgotten the significance of Deuteronomy 6:5. When asked what the “Greatest Commandment” was (Matthew 22:36), Jesus quoted that verse: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” And, He continued, the second greatest commandment in the law was like it, that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). “On these two commandments,” said Jesus, “hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
What does it mean to “love the Lord” our God that completely? It certainly means that we love self less than we love God. And taken in the context of Matthew 22, we must be just as concerned for the affairs of others as we are for ourselves.
Unfortunately, the realities of American life are very different. It has become acceptable in political circles, for example, to base one’s decisions on self-interest. Any first semester political science student is taught that Members of Congress fundamentally operate on the premise that self-interest is preeminent, and every action is done with an eye to the next election. A few brave souls defy that self-centered characterization, but it is generally true. And given the ongoing operation of that model, most Members of Congress have ignored rising federal spending and spiraling debt for years, if not decades.
But they aren’t the only ones. For the most part, Americans seem satisfied to live their own lives in terms of increasing their financial portfolio, building retirement accounts, and paying off their mortgage. Some call it “The American Dream.” There is nothing inherently wrong with those things, unless we give them more attention and devotion than we give to God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Not some of our heart, soul, and strength, but all of it. And if we take that command seriously, it weeds out the human predisposition to put undue emphasis on our financial standing. It also requires us, in light of Matthew 22, to genuinely care about others around us. Do you know someone in foreclosure? Maybe it’s not a result of intentional bad choices in life; maybe a job was lost or medical catastrophe hit. Have you recently heard about an individual in great need? Perhaps you should reconsider the length of your vacation or the upgraded car. Loving God and loving our neighbor demands a higher calling than focusing solely on fulfilling our own personal desires.
That’s the fundamental reason why our government is in this mess with a multi-trillion dollar deficit. Politicians, corporations, and constituents alike have spent years demanding spending to fulfill their personal desires, and there just isn’t enough money in the world to satisfy everyone’s wants. It’s time that we got back to the business of good government and sound fiscal policy. Each of us should pray for our Congressional leaders, support those politicians who are willing to make the tough choices, and practice in our own lives what we preach to others.
[Alan K. Ota, “GOP Pushes Balanced Budget Amendment as Companion to Debt Talks,” Congressional Quarterly, July 14, 2011, 3:54 p.m.; Brian Friel, “’Gang’ Has $3.6 Trillion Deficit Cutting Plan, Conrad Says,” Congressional Quarterly, July 14, 2011, 4:11 p.m.; Paul M. Krawzak, “Reid Blasts Cantor for Holding Up Debt Talks,” Congressional Quarterly, July 14, 2011, 12:06 p.m.]The President's Column was prepared with the valuable research and writing assistance of Laurel A. MacLeod.
Helsinki Commission Highlights Internet Freedom
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
The U.S. Helsinki Commission is holding a public hearing this morning titled “The Promises We Keep Online: Internet Freedom in the OSCE Region.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), established during the détente period of the Cold War, is the world's largest regional security organization and consists of 56 nations in Europe, Central Asia, and North America. Chaired by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Helsinki Commission is an independent federal agency that monitors OSCE relationships and focuses on arms control, human rights, free-press, and fair-elections issues. It consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine members from the U.S. House, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.
Today’s hearing examines the adherence of OSCE member states to international commitments protecting freedom of expression and information online. The Commission plans to particularly scrutinize the records of Belarus, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia. It states that the recent arrests of bloggers, blocking of websites, and other forms of online intimidation have precipitated the hearing.
Freedom House, an independent human rights and democracy watchdog organization whose President will testify at the hearing, released a study on international Internet freedom in April. They reported:
“[A] growing number of governments are moving to regulate or restrict the free flow of information on the internet…. [Authoritarian] states are increasingly blocking and filtering websites associated with the political opposition, coercing website owners into taking down politically and socially controversial content, and arresting bloggers and ordinary users for posting information that is contrary to the government’s views. Even in more democratic countries… internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque censorship procedures, or expanding surveillance.”
Others testifying at today’s hearing include Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, and Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Click here for more information.
The Inside Story: Key Government Issues for Christian Communicators
>> Helsinki Commission Highlights Internet Freedom
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