Justice Perspective: A budget should be seen as a moral document

Mon, Apr 24th 2017 09:00 am
Catholic Charities of Buffalo
Deacon Don Weigel
Deacon Don Weigel

Each year at this time, governments large and small go through their budget process. It's the time when the executive and legislative branches work together to develop a plan for where money comes from and where money goes.

It's really not much different than the process that every household goes through, regardless of how large or small that household is. The procedure is the same. Take how much money is coming in to the household and decide how to spend that money, how much to save, and how to bring in more if necessary.

Whether it is a government or a household, the decisions that are made on the budget reflect the values that underlie those decisions. Just as Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," budget and money concerns show who we are as a people. This was expressed so well in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who maintained that a budget is not just a financial document, but a moral one.

That is why, just last month, the U.S. bishops (the chairs of six bishops' committees, in fact), sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to address the moral dimensions of the federal budget. In that letter, the bishops point out that budget decisions should be made based on three principles. First, every budget decision should be made based on whether it supports or threatens human life and dignity. Second, the budget has to be focused on "the least of these" - the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the refugee, the vulnerable - their needs should come first. Finally, the government has a "shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

They also point out that while the Church supports fiscal responsibility and reducing the deficit, a just framework for the budget "cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons" and has to be a matter of shared sacrifice, including eliminating unnecessary military and other spending.

What are we to make, then, of President Donald J. Trump's proposal to increase our military spending by $54 billion? Keep in mind, this is not the entire military budget, just the amount of the increase - and it is a 10 percent increase over last year's budget of over $580 billion. And our entire military spending is greater than that of the next seven countries combined - including Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

Using the principles of the U.S. bishops, does this military spending support or threaten human life and dignity? When Pope Francis addressed Congress a couple of years ago, he specifically called for an end to the arms trade, which brings "untold suffering on individuals and society." Second, does this proposal focus on "the least of these?" The proposal is that this increase in military spending will be offset by cuts in programs relating to education, the environment and poverty. Finally, does this spending promote the common good? What does it do to help "ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity?"

The bishops' final point in their letter to Congress is significant: "The moral measure of the federal budget is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless, exploited, poor, unborn or undocumented are treated." How well does our federal budget measure up?  

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