‘What Would Jesus Cut?’ — Debt Ceiling Version

Encouraging President Obama to play Robin Hood—as if he needed encouragement—a group of religious leaders met with the president at the White House last week where they admonished him “to protect Medicaid, food stamps, aid to poor women with infant children, international development aid and other programs specifically targeted to the poor,” the Washington Post reports. Led by the progressive evangelical group Sojourners, and joined by other Christian organizations from across the political spectrum, these are the folks about whom I wrote in the Wall Street Journal last April after they ran ads with the headline, “What Would Jesus Cut?”

Now that they’re using not simply the budget debates but the debt ceiling battle to promote their agenda, two points are worth noting. First, we need to remember that “helping the poor” is what got us into our recent mess to begin with: the Community Reinvestment Act, which promoted mortgages for people who couldn’t afford them; the Fed’s inordinately low interest rates, which gave further encouragement; Freddie and Fanny—all leading to the housing bubble that precipitated the Great Recession.

Second, the implicit message—made explicit with Obama’s obsession over “corporate jets”—is that if we can’t cut spending, we’ve got to raise taxes on the rich. Never mind that the top 1 percent pay more in federal income taxes than the bottom 95 percent. Far more telling, federal tax revenues, AEI’s Philip I. Levy reports, “have steadfastly remained at or below 20 percent of GDP for decades, through periods of high marginal tax rates and low.” Tax the rich into poverty, you won’t solve the problem, which is rooted in spending. But you will feel better—if equality is your aim. That too, over the longer haul, is what got us into this mess. There’s nothing wrong with inequality: it’s what lifts a thousand boats, including those of the people the Sojourners want to help.