As the Government Reopens, a Call for Intergenerational Justice

From a reading of Dr. Seuss on the Senate Floor during Senator Ted Cruz’s assail against the Affordable Care Act, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s vehement attacks against the Republican’s “Tea Party anarchists”, political posturing and Washington theatrics took full effect during the 16-day government shutdown.

As Wall Street fluctuated, American dismay peaked as 800,000 workers were furloughed, national parks and veteran memorials were closed, and death benefits to families of fallen soldiers were egregiously denied. While Congress agreed on a temporary resolution in 11th hour, the debt-ceiling agreement leave us with not much more than a political win for Democrats and more deadlines.

The bipartisan deal reopens the government through Jan. 15 and raises the debt-ceiling cap to Feb. 7, with the hopes that the budget conference committee reaches a deal in December. Nevertheless, the history of Republicans and Democrats’ limbic reaction to circumvent culpability, claim negligence of the opposite party’s willingness to negotiate, and stubbornly abide by their vastly opposing ideologies undermines this goal.

Throughout the debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, fiscal cliff in 2012, and recent government shutdown and narrowly avoided debt-ceiling debacle, our fractured and partisan government continually failed to supersede party differences with inter-party compromise. What will be different about this new budget committee from the Supercommittee created by the 2011 debt-ceiling dispute?

For Christian citizens, it is necessary to recognize that our nation’s debt woes and partisan factions are more than just a temporary headache. Instead, we must advocate for intergenerational justice- one that will consider the implications of our actions on future generations and promote values of stewardship and responsibility.  

As articulated in A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal for the American Debt Crisis,

“For a generation and more, we Americans have been living beyond our means. Our growing national debt now puts us on a path towards economic disaster. If unchanged, our current culture of debt threatens to bankrupt us both economically and morally. The biblical call to stewardship demands that we pass on an economic order in which our children and their children can flourish.”

 Prior to voting on raising the debt ceiling in 2006, then Senator Obama said, “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” With a new debt limit $8 trillion higher than in 2006, President Obama’s comments resonate even more so today.

Americans deserve governance that respects the concept of stewardship and assumes the difficult decisions that American families make everyday balancing their checkbooks. In order to achieve intergenerational justice, we must discontinue our frivolous and immoral spending that is at the expense of future generations.

As Congress hazards a deficit-reduction plan, both parties must render concessions as they debate over the most viable and sought after approach. While Democrats try to pare sequester cuts and seek additional revenue through tax hikes, Republicans will pursue entitlement reform and pro-growth tax reform. Though these approaches starkly contrast, certain reforms are necessary not only for the financial health of our country, but for the solvency of certain programs. Entitlement programs remain the federal budget’s most pernicious offenders and though controversial, are in dire need of reform so that they are sustainable for posterity’s sake.

The ability for the budget conference committee to forge a budget agreement is imperative, as another deadline to continue funding the government looms and the potential of not reaching another debt-limit agreement exists. Another shutdown would further impede GDP growth in an already tepid economic recovery, and uncertainty about the outcome of the debt-ceiling risks the credibility of the U.S. and riles markets.

Ideally, Congress will achieve a long-term deficit-reduction plan prior to the impending deadlines that will tackle our national debt quandary and provide some certainty to markets and businesses. Republicans need to regroup after their botched strategy to defund and delay Obamacare quickly unraveled into the stalemate that plagued Congress for 16 days, and Democrats must come to the table more open-minded about entitlement reforms.

Unfortunately, short-term fixes often culminate in contrary fashions. Congressional leaders should take note by abandoning momentary, fruitless wagers for long-term, effective policy. Over the past several months, Congress has consistently evaded fiscal stewardship by prolonging the budgetary process.

As Christian citizens, we have a responsibility to hold government accountable and to ensure it's fulfilling its intended role- in this case, to find a sustainable way to reverse our nation’s increasing debt. At the same time, we must recognize our “duty to temper our wants and even sacrifice with regard to some of our legitimate desires: for the sake of frugal stewardship and long-term sustainability of our economy, for the sake of continuing governmental care for the poor and weak, and for the sake of doing justice to our children and our children’s children.”

-Jessica Rabe is currently a senior at Gordon College majoring in economics.