Washington, DC: No food, No deductions, No citizenship
There is nothing like the specter of the fiscal cliff to get a focus on important issues. For the past several weeks I have been working with groups and coalitions in DC to educate elected officials on the impact of various legislative proposals to keep feeding the hungry, preserving charitable deductions, and making straight a path to citizenship.
Read more below about these important topics:
The negotiations for the resolving the fiscal crises are being focused on several “buckets” of money. Discussions center on the question “What is to be done with: defense spending, entitlement programs, revenue, tax reform and non-defense discretionary spending?” Most of these you have heard about in the news, but that last one “non-defense discretionary spending” just doesn’t beg the sound bite, right? This is a very important category because this is the funding bucket for programs that are evaluated and reauthorized every year as opposed to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare that are not. These annually reviewed non-defense discretionary programs span many areas and include many small dollar programs for the least of these: Women Infants & Children (WIC) basic nutrition, SNAP, Meals on wheels and other US community hunger and poverty programs. Also in this category are some important peace-building foreign programs like PEPFAR (fighting African AIDS) and USAID FUND 150 which funds women’s and children’s nutrition programs to stop the tragic effects of malnutrition and preventable disease in 17 countries. The foreign assistance here is less that. 6% of the budget but provides the infrastructure work in many areas for relief and development ministries of Baptist Unions and compassionate mission efforts around the world.
Making visits to the offices of 4 Senators and 3 Representatives, I found support across the aisle for the preservation of these programs. Leadership from both parties agree that the small amount of funding to these programs is critical to peace building abroad and domestic stability at home. “What can be done to end the squabbling?” we asked. The resounding answer was “ Go home and tell your neighbors to call elected officials and tell them to COME TO AN AGREEMENT and avoid the fiscal cliff.” Committee leaders, Like Representative Kay Granger (TX) and Senator Pryor (AR) have done the hard work of reviewing every program and line item and proposals are awaiting a final agreement.
Our visit to Capitol Hill was sponsored by Bread for the World and more than 100 faith leaders were encouraging elected officials not to push the poor off the fiscal cliff. We were encouraged to “Call your U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today! Use the Bread for the World toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) and tell them to pass a budget deal that includes a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.” Go and do likewise….
In the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, various plans to charge the deduction for charitable giving have been floated by both the President and members of Congress. Americans give more than $300 billion to charity every year; the deduction takes $50 billion in tax revenue off the table. All proposals include restrictions on charitable deductions; however, there is significant variation in the magnitude of the proposed restrictions.
The President’s plan reduces the percentage of total deductions a high-income household (more than $250,000) can claim from 35% to 28%, bringing the deduction for high-income households in line with what middle class households can claim which is currently 28% of total deductions raising $500+ billion from high-income households.
Republican counter-proposals impose tighter constraints on charitable giving by capping total deductions at $50,000 (Senator Corker plan) or $25,000 (House Republican plan). All your deductions – mortgage, state tax etc. – would add to the cumulative cap of $25 or $50K therefore squeezing out the role of the charitable deduction if those other amounts met the ceiling; these plans are estimated to raise $800 billion in revenue. (See abp news article, Fiscal cliff talks worry charities.)
Interestingly enough, one of the reported tenets of healthy church state separation, lauded by fellow Baptists that don’t have it, is the incentive for charitable giving. A few years ago, a delegation from a Baptist Union in Europe visited the US and were engaged in an exploration of ways that they might influence their country to move away from the state tax-funded system of supporting the state-designated church. Several proposals had been given and their government was even discussing giving the Baptists state funding to quiet their questions. Although tempting, the delegation true to Baptist principles, did not want the tax support of the government. They praised and lauded the US tax deduction for charitable giving as the right combination of financial incentives and freedom of conscience for all donors – those who would want to support a state church and those who are not a part of a state church. (European countries have a patchwork of systems regarding charitable giving.)
The CLC has been working since 2003 on immigration reform proposals. More than 250 business, law enforcement and faith leaders were convened by the National Immigration Forum on December 4th and 5th to tell the administration and the Congress that there is a new consensus on immigrants and America, and that common-sense immigration reform should be a priority for 2013. One indication of the receptivity to immigration consensus by Congressional leaders was the surprising participation of more than 18 Senators and Representatives in a early morning breakfast on Wednesday Dec 4. Our Texas delegation includes Dr Gus Reyes, Rev Rolando Rodriguez and me from BGCT and Rev Jesse Riccones, Hispanic Baptist Convencion. Many capitol visits were made to both Republican and Democratic offices and each region of the country had strategic talking points related to the impact of immigration reform on business, law enforcement and in faith communities. The immigration system is broken on almost every front and fixing it will restore the rule of law. Here are my remarks delivered at the Legislative breakfast (below).
We hold this truth to be self evident- comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is justice for all. CIR returns us to the rule of law and it reorders justice for 22 million people in our country. We are here today as Business badges and Bibles. We could each alone speak- but our voices together are STRONG.
We are about to make visits- and here are some simple things to be sure to say to the offices you visit – that we are here as all three Business, Badges and Bibles BECAUSE in CIR there are business solutions and law enforcement solutions and we have amoral imperative for a 21st century system that brings justice and mercy for millions human lives.
We are here to dust off the rhetoric- this issue has been kicked around – but NOW is the time. Share your own feelings the CHANGES in attitude and commitment that you have about immigration. I say “I am an Anglo church lady and my feelings on immigration reform have been changed and intensified by serious study and commitment to the issue.” Mr. Senator, “I have come a long way to encourage you personally to be a renewed leader on immigration reform.”
I have two questions for you. Question 1: Will you be a (re)newed leader for comprehensive immigration reform? Question 2: What can I do (back home) to make your job easier to be a renewed leader on immigration reform?
Take notes and do what will help your elected official be a leader on immigration reform. That may be to make calls, write a letter or op-ed, post in Facebook. And when you energy lags and daily life blunts the fervor you feel today- perhaps you will be renewed as an advocate when you remember this blessing.