Who gets the bill?

Dear Congress:

There is a $24 billion bill to pay for the government shutdown and the fight over the debt ceiling.

We, the people, would like to know to whom we should send the bill.

Do we send it to all of you, who refused to do your jobs?

Do we send it to the House of Representatives, which passed arcane rules so that only the Speaker of the House John Boehner or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor could hold a vote to re-open the government?

Do we send it to Sen. Ted Cruz, who somehow thinks that he’s won some sort of victory while at the same time costing us TWENTY-FOUR BILLION DOLLARS?

We, the people, did not want the government shut down.

We, the people – or at least, those of us who understood from the get-go that raising the debt ceiling was not giving the government permission to spend more money wildly, but rather meant that this nation could pay the bills for spending that Congress already approved – are not amused.

No, we are not.

We do not elect you, members of Congress, to go to Washington to act like 2-year-olds throwing temper tantrums.

We send you there to … wait for it … work!

And these past few weeks, you, the members of Congress, have not done your jobs.

Instead, you have traded pot-shots, you have made ridiculous claims, you have ignored the very basics of how to repeal a law, and overall, you have showed that in general, you are not interested in doing your jobs.

Instead, you have run up a $24 billion bill that you are refusing to even acknowledge, much less pay.

And now there are some of you threatening to do this all over again come the new year.

All because some of you can’t get your way.

Mr. Cruz, the Republican Senator from Texas, apparently flunked civics in school, because he still believes he can hold the nation hostage until he gets rid of the Affordable Care Act. I’m not certain why he wants to do away with this, except for the fact that, oh, wait, his state is one of the worst in caring for its poorest people.

Perhaps he, and others who believe as he does, need to be told again: Congress passed the ACA. The President signed it into law. The nation then re-elected the President, rejecting the man who claimed he would, by executive order, undo the act. The Supreme Court then upheld the law.

What part of “it is the law” do these people not understand?

Is the problem that this act will benefit the poorest people, the ones who do not have health insurance right now, and whose employers cannot, or will not, provide health insurance for them? Or is the problem that you, the members of Congress elected to serve the people of this nation, do not care for 45 million of those people?

Either way, please realize this: The Affordable Care Act is the law. Deal with it.

And stop running up bills that no one is prepared to pay.

Because there is a $24 billion bill that needs to be paid.

Who gets it?

Who will pay?

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This war on the poor makes no sense

 

 

What, I wonder, did the poor ever do to the rich?

Why, I ask, do the rich seem so hell-bent on hurting the poor?

What, I want to know, will it take to end this seemingly endless war on the poor and help people out of poverty so that all of us – and I do mean all of us – will benefit?

As I write this, the government has just shut down – all because a small group of people who claim to be representatives of the people refuse to recognize reality. The House of Representatives repeatedly is trying to get rid of the Affordable Health Care Act, despite the fact that Congress passed the law, the President signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, and the people say they want it. (A note on those polls: If the act is referred to as “Obamacare,” some polls show that the American people don’t want it. But when those same people are asked about the act by its formal name, they want it. Just goes to show how polls can be skewed so easily.)

This same group of Republicans in the House also has voted to slash the food stamp program – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – over the next 10 years.

Again, there is no recognition of reality, no recognition that people in this country need help because the jobs that do exist often do not pay enough to feed a family. Approximately 47 million Americans receive SNAP, and of those, 72 percent of those families include children – children! Never mind the fact that most of the recipients are working Americans!

Somewhere, someone decided that saving that $40 billion over 10 years was more important than feeding people.

Somewhere, someone decided that balancing the budget – as if $4 billion a year in $3 trillion dollar budget would do that – is far more important than helping 4 million low-income Americans keep food on their table in 2014. Or 3 million additional Americans in 2015. Or another 3 million Americans in 2016 and every year thereafter for seven more years. Those are the numbers of people who will be cut off, if those mean-spirited folks in the House get their way.

Do the people who made this decisions realize that for the working poor, their wages are so low – so incredibly, insultingly low – that they can’t afford to feed and house their children?

And now, the latest insult: The government is shut down.

Oh, some portions are not shut down – those deemed necessary.

But most of the workers and contractors are not being paid, even those who are deemed necessary.

(Except, of course, for those folks in Congress, who still get their paychecks even when they are engaged in a massive attack on this country and its people.)

Which leads me to ask, once again, what did the poor ever do to the rich?

Make no mistake: The attacks on the poor in this country are relentless, as though being poor is a sin, a crime, or both. Testing welfare recipients for drug use – even when every shred of evidence says that only the smallest minority of them use drugs – is an insult at best. Don’t the powers that be in this country realize that it takes money to buy drugs?

Cutting off unemployment benefits – at the same time that the richest business owners are making more money than they ever could have dreamed of – is an insult.

Trying to defund the Affordable Health Care Act, which will benefit … wait … you guessed it … the poor, is an insult.

Shutting down the government just to make a point that makes no sense and which overwhelmingly affects the poor, is an insult.

In reality, each of those actions or attempted actions is an attack on the poor, meant not only to keep them in their place but to starve them, force them out of their homes and make damned sure that they will die of easily preventable and treatable illnesses.

What is going on in this country?

To those who say that poor people should work, I answer: Hire them! Create the damned jobs, pay a living wage, and we wouldn’t need to worry about the size of SNAP! If you’re not willing to do that, then be still!

To those who say that the poor shouldn’t get health care, I answer: You first! You give up your health care, and live with the worries of what one illness will do to your budget, and then – and only then – do you get to cut off health care for others. If you’re not willing to do that, then be still!

We are only in the first hours of the government shutdown. Already, its ripple effects are being felt. Go talk to the small business owners, who are watching their profits fall, because those workers who have been furloughed? They aren’t spending. Profits fall, more people get laid off, the economy reverts to recession and guess what happens next? SNAP soars! Brilliant move, eh?

Of course, the shutdown mainly affects the poor and the working class. The rich won’t have to worry, because they still have work, they still have paychecks, they still have investments.

But … if this shutdown continues for even a few days, watch what happens with those same rich folks: Their investments are going to fall precipitously. Their profits then will fall, which in turn will cause their investments to fall even more, which in turn …

See how this works? It doesn’t make sense, yet some ideologues believe this is how you run a country.

Well, I have news for those folks: This is not how you lead a country. It is how you lead a country back into a recession.

Complete intransigence on the part of a small group of people who haven’t gotten their way and who refuse to recognize reality is hurting the vast majority of people in this country who are poor.

There’s no way around it:

The rich in this country are engaged in a war on the poor.

Who did nothing to deserve this … except to be poor.

What is going on this country?

 

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Dear Congress: For God’s sake and ours, please, just do it!

Dear Members of Congress:

It is time to get back to work.

The election is over.

Many of you won, some of you lost.

It doesn’t matter. You are still the 112th Congress, and you still have a spit-load of work to do.

So go do it.

Now.

For God’s sake, and for our sake, please, just go do it!

I know you’re tired. I know you’ve been working your butts off getting re-elected, that you’ve been traveling a lot, that your throats are sore and your heads are probably pounding, and that your body is, quite simply, ready to quit

So take a few days off — but ONLY a few.

Then come back to DC and do the work we actually elected you to do.

Yes, Thanksgiving is coming, and you traditionally take a long time off for that, and yes, this is a lame-duck Congress, and yes, you really want to rest right now.

But the rest of the country is working – hard – either at jobs or at trying to get a job. The rest of us don’t get to take a break. We don’t get to pass the buck, and neither should you.

Because of your recalcitrance, mixed in with some of the same from the President (who got re-elected, so deal with it), you have managed to pass the buck on darned near everything. Through your intransigence, we are now facing a man-made (and yes, I chose that word deliberately) fiscal “cliff” that is completely your own fault. You don’t want to make hard decisions, you don’t want to compromise your so-called values, you don’t want to look weak.

Blah, blah, blah.

We the people have spoken, and we have not spoken for more gridlock caused by people who cannot, for the life of them, learn to play well together in the sandbox, much less share their toys.

Well, guess what, gentlemen and gentlewomen?

They aren’t your toys. They’re ours.

And we the people demand that you use them well, for the greater good of the American people and the world.

We demand that you pass a jobs bill that indeed will indeed put us back to work. It’s not a hard thing to do, so please: Just do it.

We demand that you pass a budget bill that is not filled with special perks, also known as “pork.” We’re on a diet, folks – we don’t need the extra fat. Face reality: You are going to have to mix tax increases with cuts. You cannot come remotely close to a decent budget – never mind a balanced one – on the backs of the poorest and the neediest.

The automatic cuts? The automatic rise in tax rates for all? The looming limit on the debt? FIX them! Stop messing around and just do it!

Remember: You did not win a mandate for business as usual. You are in Congress now – and many of you will continue in your jobs – because we, the people, need you to work on our behalf. So pass a danged budget that is sane and fair, that raises money from those who can afford to give more, and cares for those of us, the forty-SIX percent (that’s the accurate number) who need help.

No more posturing, no more whining, no more fantasies about trickle-down economics. Face reality, and do the right thing. For God’s sake and for our sake, just do it.

And lest you think that is all you need to do: Wait. There’s more!

We demand that you, Congress, step up and pass a bill that will stop this obscene spending on election campaigns. Billions were spent on this election, in great part because of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, as I said, obscene. Just think of what we could have done with that money. Think of the people we could have fed; the teachers, firefighters and cops we could have hired; the medical care we could have provided; the infrastructure we could have repaired; the homeless who could have had shelter.

Think about what could have been – and then hang your heads in shame.

So the next time you see a person begging for food, the next time you see a person sleeping on the street, the next time you actually meet a person in need – ask that person for forgiveness, for you, my dear members of Congress, could have done something about this.

And you didn’t.

While you’re back at work, remember: We women in this country? We do not want you messing around with our bodies. No way. No how. So stop your assaults on us. Stop trying to pass moral laws that are, at best, immoral. Get your hands off our bodies. Now.

We demand that you finally, finally, take a realistic look at climate change, and do something about it! I know, I know: Some of you live in a fantasy world in which you believe you can deny reality. If you are in any way confused about what climate change looks like, call Chris Christie. Or Cory Booker. Or Michael Bloomberg. Ask them to take you on your very own personal tour of devastation.

Then, get real about what is happening to our world, and do something about it. Just do it.

In the House, we the people demand that you stop passing stupid – I really can’t think of another word to use here that would be more accurate – bills to rescind the Affordable Health Care Act, that try to impose inane economic policies, that target women and their bodies, yadda, yadda, yadda. Yeah, we know you want to show off your conservative credentials. But the fact is, every time you pass one of these stupid bills, you look like a child taunting the loser of a game: Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! We won and you lost! For God’s sake, could you possibly act like grown-ups? The fact that the country has spoken should tell you: Stop screwing around. Just do it.

And to the members of the Senate, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: You, gentlemen and gentlewomen, need to read the Constitution again. Nowhere does it say that a majority is not a majority, that to merely have a bill considered takes 60 votes. This is balderdash and a childish game. So stop it. You have a chance, right now, to finally demonstrate to the people who elected you that you are grown-ups. So end this stupid practice right now and get to work. Just do it!

We have a lot of work to do in this country. We need to get out of a war, care for our veterans, find housing for millions, jobs for millions more, and make sure all those people have health care. Our infrastructure needs urgent help. The people of New York and New Jersey are in dire straits. Our children need better education.

We the people are damned tired of the war between the have’s and the have-not’s. We are fed up with posturing. We are not stupid – we understand economics a whole lot better than many of you do, apparently. We are willing to sacrifice together for the common good. We want to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim jubilee for the poorest. We want to be a community!

And we can’t – not while you’re lolly-gagging around and posturing like puffed-up little Napoleons.

So listen to us, dear members of Congress:

For God’s sake and for our sake, please: Just do it!

 

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Dear Members of Congress: Stop it!

(Written for McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

Dear Members of Congress:

Apparently, you did not receive the last memo I sent you. So I am writing again, in the hopes that perhaps you will begin to listen a little more carefully to the vast majority of the people of the United States, who are tired unto death of the games you are playing.

Trust me on this: We the people despise being held hostage to someone else’s ideology in general, and right now, we truly despise being held hostage to your ideology.

That little game you played last week, taking us to within an hour of shutting down the federal government?

Not good.

And not professional.

Ladies and gentlemen, we did not elect you to go to Washington so you could play games with our lives. And yet, that is exactly what you are doing.

Many of you claim that you want to “balance the budget,” with which we the people in general agree needs to happen.

But we did not ask you to do this on our backs alone!

Do some programs need to be cut? Sure they do. But is anyone up there paying attention to the fact that some of those programs you, in your ideological fervor, are so eager to cut are the very ones that help us, the people?

Think about it: Cut out funding for Planned Parenthood, which some of you knowingly disparage and about which some of you knowingly make up facts (as though we the people had no idea of the truth) so that you allegedly can protect the unborn and allegedly cut the rate of abortions? Really? First, let’s deal with reality: Less than 5 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding goes to abortions; not 80 percent, as some of you have claimed, not 90 percent, but less than 5 percent! The rest of their funding goes to prevent abortions! So … if you cut that funding? You run the risk of increasing the rate of abortions!

This isn’t balancing the budget.

This is ideological warfare.

Those of you who are proponents of this cut? Stop it. Stop playing games with women’s lives, stop threatening to cut out the very care they need to protect their reproductive health.

Stop it!

And let’s look at another one of your favorite targets: Public broadcasting. Those of you advocating for this loudly proclaim that NPR is too “liberal.” Fine. So be it. That’s your opinion and you are entitled to that.

But if you cut out NPR, scores of radio stations in areas that have no other options will go off the air.

Now let’s think about this: You make this cut, those stations go off the air, and somehow you still think you can get your opinions out? Who is going to air those opinions? There are no other options!

So, please: Stop it. Just because the whole world does not agree with you does not mean you get to control the world.

Stop it!

What about these proposals to cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid and health care and children’s health care and education, that would undermine labor, that would making going to college harder and tell the poorest of the poor, “Tough luck”? You claim to want to build the economy, and yet you are targeting the very things for which people need help. If we don’t get this assistance, how, pray tell, do you think we’re going to be able to build up this economy?

It is hard enough to get a job and keep one these days (and in case anyone has forgotten, let me give you a basic economics refresher: Jobs, jobs, jobs! You want a functioning, healthy economy? Then we all need jobs!). Cut education initiatives, cut out health care, undermine labor, and pretty soon, you won’t have anyone working for you. No work, no pay. No pay, no purchases. No purchases, and boom! There goes the economy again! So please, stop this nonsense.

Stop it!

Oh, and could we talk for a moment about the environment? Do you recall that God specifically, in creation, asked us to be good stewards of God’s creation? (Note, please: That’s what it means to have dominion over the earth and all the creatures upon it – not to harm it recklessly, but to care for it on behalf of God.) And yet you want to cut the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the laws that you passed, so that corporations can do whatever they want to God’s very good creation?

Tell us, please, how this is good stewardship. Explain to us, if you can, how this will help the economy. Because even we, who are not elected to serve in Congress, know that refusing to care for the environment means that more people will end up ill, with life-threatening, and in some cases, life-taking illnesses.

Surely you understand that this will not help the economy, right? Face it, the more people you have who are ill, the fewer people you have who are working and thus putting money into the economy. From a purely economic standpoint, this is one of the more ridiculous ideas anyone in Washington has had in decades. Economically (and notice, please, that here I am not bombarding you with moral or theological arguments – we’re just talking about money, plain and simple) this is nonsense! It is cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Economically, this is stupid.

So stop it!

And please, tell us: Are you really serious about this idea of permanently extending tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this land? Even when dozens of those people have said that this should not be done? Is there any decent economic reason for this, any rational explanation?

Please do not try to tell us, once again, that when the rich are richer, their wealth will trickle down to the rest of us. We’ve seen these tax breaks for more than a decade now – and two-plus years ago, while the wealthiest were enjoying their gift from the government, our economy tanked!

Where was the trickle down then?

Where has the trickle down ever been?

Stop it!

And while we the people are on such a tear, let’s talk about one more thing:

Stop playing with the lives of the people of Washington, D.C.!

The District of Columbia is not your personal playground. You attached riders to the latest continuing resolution that told the people in D.C. that they cannot spend their own tax money the way they want.

Excuse me?!

Did I miss something?

You can’t do this with your own states, your own districts, so you decide to take it out on the last colony the federal government owns?

This is shameful, ladies and gentlemen, simply shameful.

I know that President Obama agreed to this; shame on him for this as well.

The people of the District of Columbia are not your slaves. They are not colonists, even though they do live with taxation without representation. Just because you are terrified of giving them the vote does not give you the right to muck about in their lives, in their decisions, whenever you need to score an ideological point for your people back home.

So stop it!

Now, listen: You say you want to cut deficits and balance the budget.

We the people agree.

But we want you to do this the right way.

We want you to find the duplication of programs and funding, and find a way to end that.

We want you to stop the ridiculous funding for defense programs that even the Pentagon says it doesn’t want. If the military doesn’t want it, don’t build it!

We want you to stop these ridiculous tax breaks for the richest of the rich, and for the corporations. We want you to close some of those ridiculous loopholes that allow the richest and biggest corporations to pay little or no taxes, while we the people have to pay our fair share (and often what feels like a heck of a lot more than our fair share).

We want you to invest in the future, which is all of ours.

We want you to keep the covenant that you made with us, the people – the average Joe and average Jane – that you will work on our behalf.

And we the people want you to understand: We do not believe that it is a right or good thing, or our wish, that our assistance to our brothers and sisters overseas should be cut. We don’t spend much overseas anyway, not in the overall scheme of things, but what little we do spend has tremendous impact. Those anti-malarial programs? They save lives. The HIV/AIDS initiative? Ditto.

Again, you want to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to afford it, while sparing yourselves (and yes, we do know that many of you qualify for those grand tax breaks you keep extending – don’t think we haven’t put that together). Economically, morally, ethically and theologically, this, too, is wrong.

So stop it!

Stop attacking those with whom you disagree. Stop your ad hominen attacks on those who work for the federal government. Stop talking about “out-of-control federal bureaucracies” as though you had no part in creating them, and no part in running them. Congress created most of these bureaucracies; Congress makes the laws about what they can and cannot do; and Congress throws a fit when something goes wrong.

Hint: You are Congress!

So, please … pleasestop this nonsense!

The Apostle Paul tells us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God …” (Romans 8:28a).

We the people would like you, the Members of Congress, to remember this.

We did not put you there to play ideological games. We are not pleased to be held hostage to your egos.

So, one more time:

Stop it!!!

X X X

(The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.)

 

This column was written for and distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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It is past time to listen to God

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice,

to love kindness

and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

In just one week, the U.S. government could come to a crashing halt.

Really.

All because our Senators and Representatives have not bothered to do their jobs.

Since receiving, in January 2010more than a year ago, mind you – President Obama’s proposed budget, Congress has managed to pass no spending bills. That’s right. Not one. All our representatives have managed to do is pass continuing resolutions, leaving for tomorrow what they could have done today – or yesterday, for that matter.

I’ve been trying to figure out what will happen next week, when the government does shut down. You can go on-line and find all kinds of analyses about who will be considered essential (um, our representatives, the leaders of government, claim this for themselves) and who will not be (um, those would be the people who actually do the work of government). The people who make sure Americans get paid? Non-essential. The people who make sure contractors get paid? Non-essential. The people who fill out the forms that ensure that Americans receive their benefits? Non-essential.

This list goes on and on, but you get the idea. In the minds of our representatives, they are essential. Most every else? Not so much.

So I wonder, as I have many times before, how our representatives are meeting God’s injunction to us? How is shutting down the government over ideology doing justice? How is it loving kindness?

\And how, pray tell, could anyone think that this massive power play – mirrored by the one playing out in Wisconsin right now – has anything to do with walking humbly with God? (Posturing instead of caring for the people entrusted to them shows a distinct lack of humility, I believe.)

In all this grandstanding, no real efforts are being made to trim the budget or lessen the deficit, because only small portions of the budget are actively in play. And the parts that have been put into play? Why, those would be the parts in which the poor, the needy and the forgotten are cared for. Those would be the parts in which women are treated with respect and dignity, in which children who have had the bad fortune to be born into poverty are fed, in which our veterans are cared for by a grateful nation that thanks them for their service. Those are the parts the so-called fiscal conservatives are chopping. Defense? Never on the table. Poor people who don’t contribute to campaigns? They are being ignored and forgotten.

Jim Wallis over at Sojourners wrote an excellent article yesterday on the God’s Politics blog (click here or look under “Articles you should read” for the link). In it, he points out that all this posturing is not about money, not about deficits, but about politics, ideology and hypocrisy.

In closing, Mr. Wallis writes:

“Let me offer a word to those who see this critique as partisan. I’ve had good friendships with Republican members of Congress, but not the kind who get elected by their party anymore. But let’s be clear, when politicians attack the poor, it is not partisan to challenge them; it is a Christian responsibility.

“This is wrong, this is unjust, this is vile, and this must not stand. Next week, thanks to your support, look for a full-page ad in Politico signed by faith leaders and organizations across the country that asks Congress a probing question: “What would Jesus cut?” These proposed budget cuts are backwards, and I don’t see how people of faith can accept them. And we won’t.”

Our elected leaders are not doing their jobs. Instead, they are playing games – and getting paid, handsomely, to do so.

Just as we want these leaders to listen closely to what God has to say through the prophet Micah, so we need to listen as well. If we want justice done, if we truly love kindness, and if we are willing to walk humbly with our God, then we need to step up as well. That’s what has been happening in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana for the past several days: The people have turned out in force, claiming their voices, claiming their rights.

If we want to avoid another government shutdown fiasco – which, by the way, will ultimately cost us billions, according to estimates – then we need to speak up. We need to make sure our Representatives and Senators understand that it is time for them to set aside their agendas and ideologies and do the right thing, which is to be responsible, to be caring, and to serve the people entrusted to them.

Shutting down the government serves no purpose other than to harm those most in need, while those with the most suffer not at all.

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