June 1, 2011
Debt Limit Raises Ire of Social Conservatives
It's becoming a key issue for groups that once played down fiscal issues.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote—and vote down—a bill that would raise the federal debt limit. The debt limit (or "debt ceiling") is the maximum amount the federal government can borrow. The current limit is $14.3 trillion. The U.S. hit that limit last week, and if Congress does not raise the limit by August, the government will not be able to pay all of its obligations.
In previous years, many social conservatives would have viewed the debt limit as a technical, fiscal issue. Yet, many whose agenda typically revolve around issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty are now mobilizing around the debt ceiling.
The Family Research Council made the issue the focus of its weekly radio show and asked people to urge their members of Congress to vote down efforts to raise the debt limit without an agreement on spending reductions.
In a legislative alert, the FRC said, "The current fight is not against a looming debt limit but against the status quo of Washington’s out-of-control behavior with the public purse." The organization called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and "a serious statutory spending cap." According to the FRC, such measures are required "to keep future generations from suffering for the sins of their forbearers."
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) echoed the FRC’s policy proposal. The ERLC’s Doug Carlson said the ERLC believes a "step in the right direction" would be the "cut, cap, and balance" proposal offered by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). His proposal, which is backed by 75 other House members,
* cuts spending in order to cut the annual deficit in half
* caps federal spending to 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and
* sends a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.
To make the 18 percent of GDP federal spending cap, over $800 billion dollars would need to be cut. This is about as much as the U.S. currently spends on both Medicare and Medicaid. To cut the deficit in half, around $300 billion would need to be taken out of the budget. This is equivalent to taking out all money spent on unemployment compensation plus all the spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Stuart Shepard of Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink may go even further. In his weekly online video, he said, "For everybody the in Washington, here’s something we’ve learned in flyover country: before you pay what you owe, you have to spend less than what you get." Depending on how this is calculated, this could mean between $600 billion and $1 trillion.
While the FRC, ERLC, and Citizenlink focus on spending cuts, Chuck Colson of Breakpoint said the both sides need to be willing to compromise in order to fix the debt. He said Democrats need to be willing to reform entitlements and Republicans must consider tax increases.
"Neither’s side math adds up" Colson said. "It’s time for us to ask the questions we’ve assiduously avoided. What do we want from government? And how do we pay for it?"
For leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, and other faith-based interest groups that belong to the "Circle of Protection" coalition, the answer to this question includes protecting programs that aid the poor.
"Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world," said a letter issued by Circle of Protection.