Addressing the Moral Concern of Deficits through Principle, Not Politics

A Statement on the Fiscal Cliff from Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

December 11, 2012


I write as Congress considers a solution to the so-called fiscal cliff.  The fiscal decisions we make at the national level indicate where our priorities are as a community.  So, I urge members of Congress, as well as President Obama and his Administration, to put first and foremost in their negotiations those people who are already struggling with poverty, inequality, and injustice.

In 2008, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly said of the U.S. budget crisis: “creat[ing] ever-increasing debt and unfunded or underfunded obligations for future generations of Americans are a grave moral concern as well as a clear danger to the republic.”  The same Assembly further “call[ed] upon the church and the nation to study the policies and practices that have created this grave moral and economic crisis, to repent of the sins of greed and of stealing from future generations who cannot defend themselves, and to call upon our citizens and national leaders to make the sacrifices necessary to begin to solve this problem before it is too late.”

I, therefore, urge Congress to address this grave concern of long-term deficits by making decisions based on principle rather than politics.  We abhor the prospect of leaving a legacy of mounting debt to future generations, and likewise believe that it would be equally irresponsible to leave the same descendants a legacy of increasing poverty and inequality.

It is clear that we cannot achieve comprehensive, just, deficit reduction only by cutting spending. Even significantly re-envisioning our military priorities, which is also essential, will not be enough.  We must have new federal revenues to address our long-term deficits – new revenue that must be raised through a more progressive tax code.  In this way, we can both reduce our federal deficit and ensure adequate resources to make necessary investments for future generations.

We further challenge the notion that entitlement reform must contribute to deficit reduction.  We believe that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are part of our social insurance system, a compact between generations that must be preserved for future beneficiaries, as well as current ones.  The goal of any reform to these essential programs must be their long-term fiscal sustainability and improved efficiency.  Should deficit reduction result from well-intentioned reform – all the better – but these programs are not the primary contributors to the deficit, nor should they be primary sources for deficit reduction.  Again, we believe that the grave moral concern of the federal deficit must be addressed in a balanced and comprehensive way.

As Presbyterians, we are anxious that our national decisions reflect our commitments as a people. We are called by a loving and gracious God to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.  We know that we are responsible to each other and, as the Gospel of Luke teaches us, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”  We, therefore, urge a solution to the fiscal cliff and federal deficit that ensures long-term fiscal stability; deficit reduction; just, new revenue; long-term integrity for entitlement programs; and a priority on the most vulnerable in society.

  1. This kind of uninformed (it is apparent this person has had 0 economic education) entree into a political question is one more reason I will be pushing for our church to leave PCUSA. Our denomination seems driven by the liberal left in our country which is dominated by a secular progressive position.

    by Richard Geach

    December 31, 2012

  2. I have had just about all the civil religion I can stand. I am sick of Grady Parsons and so many of my other ministry colleagues who seem to equate America with the Kingdom of God and who seem not to be able to differentiate between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the party platform of the Democratic National Committee. Remind me again why my congregation should send money to GA? If this is what we get we'd come out better to send it to the DNC.

    by Rev. Jeff Foster

    December 25, 2012

  3. At this point in the life of our denomination, less said might be a better strategy. Leave it to churches and and presbyteries to speak, particularly when we are not of one accord.

    by Greg Wiest

    December 19, 2012

  4. Thank you to the Stated Clerk for speaking truth about the moral dimensions of current policy debates. I can't imagine why "long-term fiscal stability; deficit reduction; just, new revenue; long-term integrity for entitlement programs; and a priority on the most vulnerable in society" might be controversial among any Americans, let alone those who take the Gospel seriously. I join Rev. Parsons in praying that our national decisions makers be blessed with wisdom and a desire to what is just and what is right.

    by Daniel Williams

    December 13, 2012

  5. It's a shame that we can't call stealing stealing. Jesus said render onto Caesar but he didn't say go stump for Caesar

    by Bill Bateman

    December 12, 2012

  6. I am sorry, but where do Mr. Parsons or some of these commenters come up with factually incorrect statements on Medicare and Social Security, and from where does Mr. Parsons derive license to comment as though he were the PCUSA on issues completely outside his areas of responsibility or competence? When the General Assembly in its collective know-it-allism takes a position, perhaps he has no choice, but this statement cannot use GA silliness as a crutch. It is factually wrong and it works against the "peace and unity" of the church.

    by John A Johnson

    December 11, 2012

  7. First, additional taxes are going to have to be part of the solution to the deficit crisis. $ 5 billion each year for the past 5 years is not a problem. It is, in fact, a crisis. Speaker Boehner has already laid $800 billion on the table. The President now asks for $1.6 trillion. In the failed Grand Bargain attempt three years ago, he said $1.2 billion was his number. My guess is that will be the compromise number this time, also. Gradye Parsons' assertion that the three major entitlement programs are not major contributors to the deficit is factually wrong. So much so, that his credibility in this conversation is fatally compromised. Medicare and Medicaid account for approximately 40% of the deficits alone. Every serious policy analyst in Washington accepts the fact that entitlement reform has to be a major part of the solution. The heart of the problem: as a nation, we want more than we've been willing to pay for--all of us. And all of us are going to have to contribute to the solution.

    by Tome Walters

    December 11, 2012

  8. The large majority - and by majority I mean 90% - of entitlements (Social Security, disability, Medicare, and Medicaid, SNAP, unemployment, etc.) go to the working poor, people who are disabled (blind, born disabled, became disabled), elderly, sick, and children. The remaining 10% or so, which apparently makes up less than 5% of the total federal budget, goes to non-working poor people. And last time I checked, Jesus did say we are to love the poor and needy without condition - because none of us are deserving. And whenever we do NOT do unto the hungry, sick, or imprisoned, we are failing to do unto Him. It is God's job to judge, not ours. Is it really that awful for people who have an over abundance of wealth to pay just a little more in taxes so the poor can have "daily bread?" He didn't say to stash up our treasures here for ourselves; He did say we should love one another. That means brother, sister, enemy, and foreigner, too.

    by Carrie

    December 11, 2012

  9. It is interesting that we blame "the government" for this crisis. My understanding is that the National Debt is made up of all the debts we, as individuals, have - not just the debt the government incurs. So, your car loan, mortgage, credit card, etc. all go into the national debt. If that is all true, then we, as individuals, must take some responsibility as well by decreasing our own PERSONAL debt.

    by Rick Hill

    December 11, 2012

  10. In the first place increasing tax rates will not necessarily increase tax revenue. In fact after the Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush tax cuts government revenues Increased, and so did government spending. Which brings me to the second point. Government will always spend all of the money we send them. Asking this president and Congress to "address this grave concern of long-term deficits by making decisions based on principle rather than politics." is akin to asking a pig to quack. They may even want to, but they are incapable. Whenever I hear Obama, or anyone for that matter, start talking about how "The Rich" need to pay their fair share, or how "The Rich" don't need this or don't need that, or how we will only raise taxes on "The Rich" I think "Thou Shall not covet" I think, there is something essentially immoral about worrying about how much other people have. I think this whole conversation we seem to be having about raising taxes on people making over $????? is an essentially immoral conversation. It is true that the Gospel of Luke teaches us, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” But that does not give ME the right to require it of others. I can not give that which I do not own.

    by Carleton Hardy

    December 11, 2012

  11. As a psychologist, I can attest that one of the greatest addictions is dependency.!! We must look at overall tax reform. What is wrong with seeing if entitlements also need significant changes? We should not be willing to shelve people when they are still able to contribute to society. When Christ healed I don't thin k he ever said "stay where you are".

    by harry sharp

    December 11, 2012

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