Policymakers in Washington face difficult choices as they attempt to reach a deficit reduction agreement before year’s end. Their decisions will have long-lasting implications for our nation’s future, and underlying these decisions is a moral question: What kind of society do we want to be? Presumably a moral one, and being a moral society requires feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and caring for the sick.
A moral society also shares burdens in difficult times; therefore it asks more from its members who have more. Accordingly, the Jesuit Conference, representing the Society of Jesus in the United States, the largest religious community of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church, opposes any deficit reduction plan that requires more from those who have less by balancing the nation’s budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. Government has a responsibility to provide for its citizens in their time of need, particularly those who cannot provide for themselves.
Recent census data reveals the wealthiest households in the U.S. saw unprecedented income growth over the past ten years while low income and middle class Americans suffered significantly from the economic downturn. Median household income has decreased for all but the top 5% of income groups. Poor and working-class Americans cannot afford to shoulder an even greater portion of our country’s economic burden.
A number of deficit reduction alternatives can reduce our nation’s debt without dramatically altering the social safety net. First and foremost is an increase in revenue, but revenues will not rise if the government continues to provide tax cuts and exemptions for top income earners.
The U.S. Conference of Catholics of Bishops stresses that, “The tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.” When faced with the choice of preserving essential services or preserving tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, the moral choice is clear. The Jesuit Conference of the United States supports a tax system that seeks more from the economically prosperous because doing so is a fiscally sound and equitable means to balance the budget. Deficit reduction must not increase the burden on members of our society who have seen incomes decline, jobs disappear, and public benefits evaporate. Rather, now is the time to commit to just and fair deficit reduction policies that foster the common good and protect the most vulnerable members of our society.