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My Take: Fiscal cliff presents false choice between compassion, good economics
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have disagreements about how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
December 13th, 2012
05:14 PM ET

My Take: Fiscal cliff presents false choice between compassion, good economics

Editor’s note: Sister Simone Campbell is Executive Director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK and leader of the “Nuns on the Bus.”

By Simone Campbell, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The debate raging in Congress over the fate of our federal budget reminds me of the great judgment of Solomon. Here we are, sharp sword overhead, poised to cut the baby in half, just waiting for the voice of reason and a willingness to sacrifice.

Instead, we’re confronted with arguments framed as a hard, false choice between sound economic policies and social programs, between fiscal realities and compassionate acts. It’s time to stay the sword.

The truth is, at some point in life and regardless of income, virtually every American will benefit in some way from a social safety-net program, whether through a social security check, an unemployment benefit or a school lunch. Programs like these are called safety nets for a reason – yank them away and people get hurt, today more than ever.

Take the special ed teacher’s aide I recently met. She has a full-time job that pays all of $17,000 a year. She works a second job to pay all the bills, but still must rely on a safety net to help feed her two kids. Because she does not earn a living wage, she has no choice.

Yet some conservatives label her a “taker” and view her with contempt, judgments that are neither just nor wise.

As we debate what to cut and keep as part of the spending reductions that will accompany coming tax increases, it’s time to be as wise as Solomon. The truth is, study after study has proven that basic, responsible social service programs like food stamps, housing credits and after-school programs actually work.

Take child care. This single subsidy is a great multiplier that provides terrific return-on-investment as a service cost reducer and a job creator. Moms return to work and families earn – and spend – more. Employers get a more reliable workforce and children are safe. And we all benefit as taxpayers because it pumps money into the economy.

Such programs are not a handout, they are a hand up.

Safety-net programs that help low and moderate-income working families, as well as those among us who are elderly, poor, disabled and neglected, account for only 13% of the total 2011 federal budget. These aren’t Cadillac programs funding big-screen TVs across America. These are programs that help pay for education, affordable apartments and oil to heat cold rooms.

More important to the fiscal hawks among us, these are also programs that help move the working poor into the middle class. I speak from the heart, but it’s my head and basic math that tell me that in our interconnected society, by helping one, we can help all.

For the last 10 years, the so-called “job creators” have enjoyed significant tax cuts and tax breaks – thanks to a beneficent government – and we have yet to see the jobs.

Perhaps the corporate titans should take a tip from one of their own, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Co. One of the richest men in the nation, but hardly a soft-hearted liberal, Ford doubled his employees’ wages in 1914, paying them enough to actually afford the cars they were making.

Truth is, Ford knew he didn’t have to make a false choice between being a good businessman or a benevolent soul. He paid his employees a living wage because it was the shrewd thing to do, knowing that workers who have money spend money, and that helped ensure everyone’s well being, including Henry Ford’s.

Imagine the impact on today’s gross domestic product if millions of low-wage working Americans, who got short-term help from a social service program with long-range goals, started earning a few more extra dollars. Like Ford’s workers, I bet they’d spend it.

My organization, NETWORK, founded by Catholic Sisters 40 years ago, lobbies Congress for economic justice. Over the summer, we crisscrossed the country on a mission – dubbed “Nuns on the Bus” – to make elected officials aware of the danger in further enriching the wealthiest Americans at the expense of struggling, impoverished families.

Our “Faithful Budget” calls for supporting public transit, job training, affordable housing near work – the sorts of programs that increase productivity and engagement in the economy.

Ultimately, we need to pay living wages so far fewer working people rely on safety nets. But until that happens, the richest country on earth has enough loaves and fishes for all. It’s both compassionate and pragmatic to make sure that low-wage workers and their families eat, have places to live, and access to basic healthcare services to be productive members in our economy.

When it comes to the debate before us, if enough voices of reason speak out – and both sides offer up something to sacrifice without harming people in need – we can all join together to help save both our nation’s fiscal security and its benevolent soul.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Simone Campbell.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Charity • Christianity • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (154 Responses)
  1. jsf12

    Real compassion would lead to the choice to not wreck the economy with excess regulations and taxes. As the whole economy goes down, almost all of us get less. That includes the least fortunate. It does not include Obama and his cronies. They can keep extracting super wealth from a dying economy, just as the rulers of the most desperate third world dictatorship keep extracting wealth.
    But when you destroy the ability of the productive minority to create wealth, you destroy the wealth that the less fortunate depend on.
    My wife's experiment with self employment will end in January. When she lost her regular job in the 2009 recession, she did not take unemployment compensation. Instead she struggled to create self employment. My wife and I were very culturally biased to be part of the productive minority. But self employment is taxed more than regular employment and is filled with necessary expenses that are not legally tax deductible. So she is taxed on an "income" that is well over 100% of her true income and (because I make a decent living) she is taxed at a very high rate. Maybe many self employed take deductions that aren't legally permitted. We obeyed the laws. But at some point it is pointless. We take the risks, we do the work. The government has taken the lion's share and we get the scraps. Next year the government would take a bigger share. The scarps are no longer worth it. My wife will no longer be self employed.
    Most small businesses have a higher margin of net income compared to non deductible expenses. But every increase in taxes and regulations moves some businesses from worth the trouble to no longer worth the trouble. The productive minority will be shrinking by one person (my wife) shortly. But she won't be the only one.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  2. CatSh

    It's going to be interesting to see what happens when they start cutting social programs.
    My guess is that businesses will find out their employees are demanding more pay to compensate.
    Not to mention when the reduced consumer buying starts percolating through the economy.

    December 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  3. tc4012

    "Nuns on a bus" – now where is a cliff when I really need one...

    December 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Yep

      Your comment is disgusting and sick. You don't deserve the AIR YOU BREATHE!!!

      December 14, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  4. belinda

    Nuns on the bus have earned the respect of the American people, they realize that people are suffering and that the GOP doesn't care about American families. The GOP are devoted to Corporate money and nothing else. The Rich and Corporations have been on the gravy train too long. It's not just about the trillion dollar Bush tax cuts, it's also about the tax deductions that are a total rip off .Yes, I count my pennies and nickels at the grocery store ( no food stamps)We are a Union family, but I would still rather feed people, with food stamps, than put money in the pockets of the Rich any day.

    December 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  5. BC

    21st century conservatism is the legitimization of selfishness.

    December 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Steven

      Why am I selfish when I want to keep my money, but you're not selfish when you want to take it from me by force?

      December 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  6. Eli Cabelly

    What we have in the USA is a few people hoarding the results of the blood, sweat, and tears of the rest of the people. Those on the right call the hoarders "job creators." I call them parasites sucking the blood from the economy of the USA.

    December 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Aerin

      Amen.

      December 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • tc4012

      Your absolutely right sister. Seems to me, one side is making concessions and doesn't want to cut the baby in half (the republicans) and the other side keeps a blind eye and repeats the mantra "get the evil rich" – even though it is proven fact we we can't tax ourselves out of this hole...

      December 14, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  7. MacV

    Save your sermon Sister You also may have been more believable if you left out any mention of your organization.. Maybe we are supposed to be more sympathetic because this is written by a nun. I've seen way to many people buy chips and soda with SNAP funds. How about this for a headline "Government contributes to obesity by allowing unhealthy foods to be bought with food stamps".

    December 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • OhHolyOne

      Oh Idiocy, thy name is MacV.

      December 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Aerin

      Junk food is cheap. Why don't YOU try living on $4 a day.

      December 14, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • belinda

      The Nuns on the bus have more integrity than you will ever have . Deal with it .

      December 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  8. bribarian

    Grab a vine obongo.

    December 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  9. Archopteryx

    "Ford doubled his employees’ wages in 1914, paying them enough to actually afford the cars they were making." That ONLY works if your employees spend it on the products you make. Today those same employees would buy a Honda.

    December 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  10. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    The huge flaw in this ideology is Americans current spending habits .... it does NOT help our economy if those receiving the "help" spend it on Chinese made goods. Require that all money received from Gov. programs is spent on US made products first, the only exception is when a US made product is not available. This will also give an incentive to US companies to mfg in the US if funds are for US spending only.

    December 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • John

      I grew up in what is now the rust belt. Steelworkers laughed at my father for only buyin American made cars. The fools bought Datsuns and other foreighn cars. Guess what? They lost their jobs when the steel mills closed because there was no demand for their product. People need to buy American as much as they can and encourage companies to build things in this country.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      John, you have it exactly correct. Support your own economy, the job you save will eventually be your own!

      December 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  11. txtruth

    I agree with this article- and ask – when we spend more on DEFENSE than the next 12 countries added together and more than 10 times our enemies each year- are we getting our moneys worth.
    When we buy boats and planes we dont even need and they run BILLIONS over (on our taxpayer dollars) are we getting a good deal?
    When the biggest corporations that benefit from defense spending to protect their foreign economic interests but do not pay tax here as they book profits overseas- and we have to pay their share- is it right?
    Cut DEFENSE- then talk about safety nets – NOT BEFORE!

    December 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  12. Joel Thomas

    Just a question:
    Why does the "left" believe that THEY know how to use MY EARNED monies better than I do?? What have their "recipients" done that makes them MORE deserving of MY hard-earned dollars than I am.
    Compassion is all well and good---I'm as charitable as the next man---–but I DO NOT appreciate being "told" that some lazy, good-for-nothing "waste of air" is more deserving of MY money than I am.
    Sister "Idiot"----please pull your head out of your nether region and begin again to breathe REAL AIR, rather than the re-cycled stuff that's filling your lungs and destroying your brains!

    December 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Aerin

      Hey hatebag, don't drive on any roads or use ANYTHING that the govt provides, then you can talk. Until then STFU

      December 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • ThirstyHowl

      All dollars are hard earned. The armed robber takes his life in his hands to get his hard-earned dollars. The lottery player is a superior risk-taking investor by Wall Street's standard of "only results count." I don't fully understand the logic, but apparently even inheritances count as "head earned" in certain Congressional circles now.

      December 14, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  13. Bliss

    From my perspective, the problem is who should sacrifice. Everyone agrees that there needs to be a change in how the country does business. But when it comes to who is going to be impacted by that, everyone wants someone else to be it, under the guise of "I already gave." If there is going to be a "balanced" approach to all of this, then everyone is going to need to give a little and sacrifice. That means for the top 2%, they are probably going to have to pay some more of their money in the form of higher taxes to increase revenues. However, that also means for the other 98%, it is not a case of "tax the rich, that will solve the problem," but rather they are going to have to experience some pain in some area, maybe the reduction or elimination of programs that they need, want or find to be virtuous. If we are really going to have a discussion about a "fair and balanced" way to address this problem, people need to acknowledge the concept that, if the solution is balanced, everyone is going to need to be impacted in some way, not sure a group who does not happen to include "you." If not, then we are really kidding ourselves into thinking that any solution is going to be balanced. Rather, it is going to be more along the lines of "give the check to someone else."

    December 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • CTed

      That is complete BS. THat is what the right wants you to believe. The bottom 50% of this country split just 1.1% of the wealth. You heard that right. 1.1%. If you think that taxing 99% of the wealth and we have to squeeze that last 1% you are blind. The money isn't there. The money isnt' with the bottom 50%, it's with the top.

      Perhaps if more of the wealth were at the bottom they could afford taxes. The problem isn't that 50% don't pay taxes it is that they only split 1% of the wealth. Just imagine that if we skimmed just 3% of the wealth from the top 5% and broght their share down from a whopping 62% of the wealth to just 59% of the wealth (not that the top 5% should even be spitting 59%) but if we did that, we coudl TRIPLE the wealth of the bottom 50%. Just think about that for a moment. If everyone struggling could triple their wealth and not struggle and the top 5% woudl have to change their lifestyle NOT ONE IOTA.

      What does it say about us that we allow this to happen. The system doesn't work.

      December 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  14. Reality

    Getting rid of religion's roots to include the one the topic nun belongs to, saving "souls" and balancing the budget all at once thereby ending the gridlock:

    In order to pay down our $16 trillion debt, we need to redirect money used to support religions especially the christian and islamic cons and put it towards paying off our debt.

    To wit:

    Redirecting our funds and saving a lot of "souls":

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror LIKE 9/11.

    – One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    – Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    – The Mormon ti-the empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    – the faith-based federal projects supported by both Bush and Obama will be eliminated saving $385 million/yr and another $2 billion/yr in grants.

    – the ~$ 100 billion/yr donated mostly to the Jesus-con religions will now go to something useful.

    – Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    – All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook campaign

    December 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • PrimeNumber

      You've lost your grip on reality. The religions didn't help create this debt. Who has by far the biggest investment in military presence on the planet? The Baptists, you probably think. One of the basic tenets in the Old Testament wisdom books such as Proverbs is this: don't be a fool with your money. The government can't control itself. And in the private sector, business offers "necessities" to people with one hand and a credit card with the other. Joe Public can't do without stuff so he's in debt too. Religions require too much discipline for this culture, but its nice to have around to blame. That way you don't have to look into a mirror.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Reality

      Only for the new members of this blog:

      Getting rid of religion's roots to include the one the topic nun belongs to, saving "souls" and balancing the budget all at once thereby ending the gridlock:

      In order to pay down our $16 trillion debt, we need to redirect money used to support religions especially the christian and islamic cons and put it towards paying off our debt.

      To wit:

      Redirecting our funds and saving a lot of "souls":

      Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
      There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror LIKE 9/11.

      – One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

      – Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

      – Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

      Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
      There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

      – The Mormon ti-the empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

      – the faith-based federal projects supported by both Bush and Obama will be eliminated saving $385 million/yr and another $2 billion/yr in grants.

      – the ~$ 100 billion/yr donated mostly to the Jesus-con religions will now go to something useful.

      – Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
      Abraham and Moses never existed.

      – Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

      – All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

      Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook

      December 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Reality

      Ooop, sorry for the duplicate.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Reality

      Actually, keeping Islam in check is a major reason for the $16 trillion debt. Time to send bills to Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Reality

      Add Saudi Arabia to those countries who should pay us for keeping their Shiite enemies (e.g. Iran) out of Saudi Arabia.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • George Patton

      isn't it true we spend money to keep the cars running on our roads Reality? If Saudis are smart they should pile up all missile defense systems of the world on their boarder before they run out of oil, we won't be there to defend them.

      December 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  15. C, K, Justice

    The 250,000 for a family and 200,000 for a single person are TAXABLE INCOME--TAXABLE INCOME IS YOUR INCOME AFTER YOU TAKE ALL DEDUCTIONS-–
    My wife and I make less than 70,000 and we have almost 24,000 in deductions–that is state taxes, medical costs, real estate taxes, charity, and our two deductions two deductions for ourselves. We are old and have no other dependents.
    When the government talks about how much you will pay or save they are using an average family which you hardly see anymore and that is two parents and two children under 17 years old--how many couples do you know that has two children under 17 years old and making 300,000 dollars and do not itemize their tax returns.
    They save 1000 for the two children being under 17 years of age, they can deduct 3700 per dependent and they have four, themselves and the two children that is 14,800 they can deduct if they take the standard deduction which 12,750 if they were born after 1947, that is 28,500 dollars if that is all they can deduct, so they can make 278,500 dollars and come under the so called 250,000 without itemizing any deductions-it the itemize they lose will have to use mortgage interest, state taxes, medical expenses, 401K would be deducted before their take home so they would not be paying taxes on that income. So do not feel sorry for them and they are not even going to see a tax increase. Their income would have to be I would guess in most cases total prior to any deductions some 315,000 or morel

    December 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  16. mat

    lol. Hey dems, every see a rich union member? Ever wonder why? Maybe the good sister should learn not to covet. Seems like the defining trait of people on the left.

    December 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Lou

      Aren't people motivated to become wealthy because they covet what people who are already rich have?

      December 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Joefrombflo

      Most union members aren't greedy. They just want to make enough to support their family and maybe have a little left over for a rainy day. That's the mistake right wingers make. They assume everyone is greedy like them.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • TC

      No, I haven't.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • keeth

      "Seems like the defining trait of people on the left."

      Prove it.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Akira

      Mat, unsure of what you are saying; my husband is a union member, and we are FAR from rich.
      We are barely in what you would call the middle class.
      Unions aren't the problem.
      Unwillingness to compromise is the defining trait of the right, all the while being the ones on the very programs YOU want to disseminate.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  17. Mohammad A Dar

    that's why you want to keep state and church separate, they make their case with emotion

    December 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  18. Jim

    Compassion is certainly a good thing, but what the sister misses is that these things aren't free, that you can't just keep asking other people to pay for these things, that taxes or expenses that are passed on to companies DO, in turn, get passed on to consumers, and that if we DON'T solve this problem by controlling spending MANY people will get hurt. If we can't resolve this, we'll eventually turn out like Greece and MANY, MANY people are hurting there specifically because theri government couldn't/wouldn't make the hard choices to fix their ecomy - in part, they showed too much interest in getting votes and too little in ensuring solvency. THAT is the choice our lawmakers face today - dole out spending regardless of our budget situation (which she might call compassion) or fix the situation. It's a choice that real people have to make everyday - I'd like to give more to charity, but I just CAN'T right now because my finances are tight.

    December 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Steven Hunter

      Jim, I would take your response more seriously if you really knew what Greece's problems stem from. You mention them like you know the government is the problem. In some ways we are already like Greece. The populace of that country suffers from a culture of cheating on their taxes. So it's not only government mismanagement but the public's own fault for not paying their fair share.

      December 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  19. Alinnc

    Absoultely right, lazy. Why do they need a car – let em walk. Food? Why not just let em eat bread. Heat? If they would work harder, they'd stay warm. In fact, why do they even have a roof over their heads if they cannot afford rent. Unfortunately, your scenario breaks down a little bit when in a lot of cases, the siblings with no cookies worked just as hard, or harder than the one who got them all.

    December 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • voxx

      I see so many that have lots souls... Fear that some one will have more than them... Sad ending for them really..

      December 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  20. goddessluckystar

    This should not be about conservative and liberals we should look at it just as human beings. I think we can be humane in our actions and still be responsible citizens.

    December 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Responsible citizenship ended in 1913. All we are now is a bunch of overstuffed diners haggling over who's going to pick up the check.

      December 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Jt_flyer

      Speak for yourself Mr. deacon. You don't represent me. I try to make a difference anytime I have a chance. I usually don't succeed but I try.

      December 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.