Budget debt discussion reveals surprising agreement - Word&Way

Budget debt discussion reveals surprising agreement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—Richard Land and Jim Wallis discuss the national debt and possible solutions in a new online video tackling military spending, taxes, welfare programs and entitlements.

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, agreed in the video on Bloggingheads.tv that the national debt, which has reached more than $14 trillion, is a moral issue. But they differed on how to solve it.

Bloggingheads.tv is a website filled with split-screen video entries of two people from remote locations dialoguing about the issues of the day—also known as "diavlogs."

Wallis, who is part of an effort called the Circle of Protection that aims to preserve government programs for the poor, called for cuts in military spending and higher taxes for the rich.

"Half the deficit is because of tax cuts for the wealthy and two wars financed off the books," Wallis said.

Land said entitlements are one of the major reasons for the deficit, stating that $700 billion was spent in 2010 on welfare and aid programs. Absent fathers and single parenthood, he said, are the main cause of poverty. Getting rid of no-fault divorce laws, he said, "would help."

"Single parenthood is the largest cause of poverty in the United States," Land said. "Children who grow up with two parents have enormous advantages in our culture and unfortunately they are now a minority."

Wallis interrupted to remind Land, "You and I are both for marriage."

Land continued to speak on the importance of parenthood: "It's a moral and an economic issue, Jim—$700 billion dollars a year in means-tested welfare services mainly to replace absent fathers and what they would provide for their families."

Land said entitlements "are at an unsustainable level" and are another large part of the reason for the deficit.

"We have one-size fits all entitlements and we can no longer afford those," Land said. "We're going to have to find a way to—I don't know whether you want to call it means test or whether you want to call it taxing the benefits of those who are wealthier—but people who have other retirement that they've gotten through their companies or through IRAs, people who have other retirement income are going to have to get less from Social Security."

Both men agreed waste must be cut from spending. Wallis called out the Pentagon as "the biggest waste" when it comes to spending, while Land challenged all government departments to examine and reduce their budgets.

"There's no budget that's ever been conceived that can't take a five percent across-the-board cut," Land said. "I guarantee you there's five percent waste in every program that the government is using, and we can start by a five percent cut … and I believe they could do so without any serious problem in delivery."

Wallis agreed that entitlements needed to be addressed and proposed raising Social Security taxes on the wealthy. He also pointed to mortgage tax deductions for the wealthy as a potential source of revenue.

"$8.5 billion in low-income housing is on the cutting block," Wallis said. "$8.4 billion — same amount of money — is being kept for mortgage deductions on second vacation homes for the wealthy. That's a choice. What choice should we make there?"

Land said he "certainly would be against" mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes. 

While Congress continues to debate over how to solve the national debt crisis, Land and Wallis agree that something must be done soon to stop the government's borrowing trend.

"We're borrowing 42 cents of every dollar that our federal government spends," Land said. "We're stealing our children and our grandchildren's future by that level of borrowing…. They'll spend most of their productive lives paying off our debts unless we get this debt monster under control and get federal spending under control and do so quickly."

Whitney Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press.