There is a war in our nation’s capital and the battlefield is Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders are embroiled in a death match over the fate and direction of our nation. While Americans listen to “war coverage” on talk radio and watch the bickering of politicians on cable television talk shows and network news broadcasts, the stage is being set for a public policy bloodbath. This is not just a matter of meeting a deadline to address the nation’s debt ceiling, as many news organizations have chosen to report, this is a confrontation over the very nature of American society, the values we stand for, and the role of the federal government.
For African-Americans, the stakes are high. This showdown comes in the shadow of a historic recession that has devastated the Black community. Burdened with the nation’s highest unemployment rates, and a male population that is literally vanishing through joblessness and imprisonment, Blacks face a dire economic future given the housing meltdown, as whatever Black wealth that existed was mostly tied to homeownership, and a labor market that increasingly requires specialized and advanced training. The proposals to address the deficit coming out of Washington D.C. are not kind to the poor and working class, mostly people of color and poor whites. The suggested cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will fall hardest on those who are most vulnerable – the poor, elderly and disabled. Meanwhile, Republicans have taken a hard line stand against President Obama on the issue of raising taxes on the nation’s highest wage earners as a way to restore some sense of balance and equity in the federal budget. We are being held hostage by a small band of ideologues who are attempting to score political points with the nation’s elite and cloak their behavior in populist rhetoric.
This is a seminal moment for our nation. Thirty years after Ronald Reagan labeled government the enemy, the right-wing infrastructure that is the progeny of Reaganism is now leading the charge to dismantle what’s left of our federal commitment to justice and equity. The federal budget is the ultimate public policy expression of our national priorities; more so than the tired speeches of politicians or the rhetoric you hear over the airwaves or read on the Internet. Once those “expressions” make it into the federal budget, they become embedded as national policy. This fight is not simply about the deficit. It is about what we deem important as a nation, who we deem worthy, and the role our government should play in creating an equitable landscape in our society.
It is time we recognized the importance of being engaged in these debates; the debates over money and how it is allocated throughout the federal government, and who benefits and who does not. We get too distracted by the sideshows and miss the big picture. Very little attention is paid to the federal budget and U.S. tax policy, yet it is those areas that determine whether the issues we consider important will be addressed. It is why we ran a series of articles on military expenditures because few of us realize the significant portion of our federal budget that is allocated for national defense, or the strain that our military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have on our wallets.
We need to understand that there will be real consequences from this battle. Seniors, most of who are struggling to simply survive, will be in an even more precarious position if Social Security benefits are cut. Likewise, the elderly and disabled will be challenged to maintain wellness if Medicare is slashed, as the poor will also if Medicaid comes under the budget knife. Is this the type of nation we have become? We provide little support at the front end of life – never fully funding programs like Head Start or public education – and undercut Americans who have contributed their labor and service at the back end of life by cutting retirement benefits and health care. This is not simply bad policy, it is immoral.
We urge you to call, write or e-mail your member of Congress. To its credit, the Congressional Black Caucus, historically the “conscience” of Congress, has been vocal in its opposition to the current direction of deficit talks. We applaud the members of the Caucus and encourage them to continue to be outspoken and use every means possible to sound the alarm and impede cuts that will harm so many Americans. It is time for our faith-based institutions to speak up. The Black Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal denominations need to take a stand, as the protection of the poor and elderly is wholly consistent with the church’s teachings. The Black church has been on the sidelines far too long; particularly since Black women, its largest constituency is facing hardships driven by the increasing demands on them as the heads of many Black households. It is time to follow the Biblical instruction to put on the “whole armor” and fight spiritual wickedness in high places.