WASHINGTON (ABP) – Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention disagreed about causes of the deficit in an online video debating morality of the federal budget.
“We’re saying that spending on poor people has not caused this deficit, and we don’t think the burden should fall on the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Wallis, a member of First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Land took issue with that statement. “They are one of the major reasons for it,” he said.
“We paid last year $700 billion in federal money in means-tested welfare and aid programs, mostly as a result of single parenthood,” Land said. “Single parenthood is the largest cause of poverty in the United States. Children who grow up with two parents have enormous advantages in our culture.”
Wallis said he believed Land’s figures were wrong. Faith in Public Life, a liberal organization, speculated in a fact-checking analysis that Land was combining Medicaid with various food, nutrition, housing and other programs aimed to prevent people in need from falling into poverty.
Wallis said the deficit was caused primarily by “financing two wars off the books” and tax cuts for the wealthy.
“You don’t cut the poorest people,” Wallis said. “Everything else should be on the table — military spending, revenues, the tax code, entitlements — all of that should be put on the table. I’m saying the poorest should not bear the brunt of deficit reduction. It just isn’t right. It’s not biblically defensible to do that.”
Land argued the cause of the deficit was “more systemic” than Wall Street bailouts and said ending tax incentives for businesses that create jobs during a recession would be a bad idea.
“I think it has to be said that when it comes to the military, sometimes military decisions to cut cost lives, too,” Land said. “I’m very concerned about the future of Afghanistan, particularly about the women in Afghanistan. If we cut too quickly and we cut too broadly in terms of our assistance to Afghanistan, those could be decisions that kill, too, particularly women.”
“You and I have disagreed before,” Wallis said. “I agree with Chuck Colson, the war in Afghanistan is no longer a just war. So we have unnecessary and unjust wars that I think cost too much in lives.”
Wallis and Land said they agreed the deficit is a moral issue and both supported economic growth and job creation and reforming entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
“Let’s protect the poor along the way and not put excessive burdens on them,” Wallis reiterated.
“We have got to – in a nation as wealthy as ours – take care of the needy and poor among us,” Land agreed. “But we also need to talk about some of the social dysfunctions that cause some of the poverty.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.