Debt Be Not Proud

“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.” —Deuteronomy 16:17.

When it comes to the morality of the current budget debate going on in Washington, all sides seem to want to claim ownership.  Both liberal and conservative theologians, be they skilled, or like myself, laymen, agree that the Bible teaches us to care for our fellow man.  However, applying scriptural teachings is where we find our differences.

Many on the Left argue that the Bible’s commands to help the poor offer a mandate to the federal government to compel, through taxes or other means, wage earners to supply for those who cannot.  There also seems to be an ever-growing interpretation of who fits into the “those who cannot” category:  It is the modern “culture of victimhood” read selectively into the pages of Scripture.

On the other hand, conservatives see the the Bible, telling us that while a certain payment to Caesar is expected, taking care of our fellow man is better suited to personal charity and acts of compassion, as opposed to a statist, “one-size-fits-all” government fiat.  In most cases, when dealing with many social problems, the best thing government can do is get out of the way and let churches, charities, and individuals help those in need.

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” —Proverbs 22:7.

Without a doubt, our government has spent the last 20 years or so spending more than we should and borrowing more than we can afford.  All indicators have been screaming for years that we are entering into crisis mode, with little corrective response from Washington politicians.

Just recently, Standard & Poor’s (S&P), the premier credit rating outfit, said that there is a “one-in-three” chance that the United States’ credit rating will be downgraded.  S&P’s warning came because they don’t think that politicians in Washington will seriously address the increasing debt problem our nation is facing.

The reaction from President Obama was one typical of Washington politicians, to form yet another commission to “study” the problem.  In theory, these commissions are supposed to be the best and the brightest at solving the problem put in front of them.  In practice, they tend to be platforms for political showboating that ultimately result in no solutions because the politicians who called for them will not apply their best counsel.  And then, another commission is formed when a new troubling indicator appears that grabs media attention.  And so on.

“Let no debt remain outstanding,” Paul wrote the churches in Rome.  Debt, while not always a sin, is certainly not God’s best for us if we let it remain unpaid.  For our country, the fact that the massive size of our debt affects future generations is immoral.  In fact, President George Washington considered public debt as generational theft, and advocated  “avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but … not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”  Ignoring accumulating debt while realizing that the enormous bill will have to be paid by our children and their children is wrong by any standard.

“Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.  Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’  Instead, 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.” —Sen. Barack Obama, March 20, 2006, when he voted against raising the debt ceiling.

Senator Obama understood something President Obama seems to have forgotten.  Doing nothing is condemning future generations to continuous debt.  Unless serious reforms are made now, it is unlikely they will ever take place in time to stop the approaching crisis.  Two weeks ago, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner sent a letter to congressional leaders estimating that the U.S. will ultimately hit the $14.3 trillion limit on its borrowing ability by mid-May, and with some creativity we could stave off the deadline till July 8.  If the Republicans agree to raise the debt limit once again, they should only agree to do so if the increase is coupled with real spending reforms.

While it is highly unlikely the debt ceiling will not be raised, the vote must not come and go without significant reforms to our spending habits.  Game changers like a Balanced Budget Amendment and a serious statutory spending cap (unlike the Potemkin one currently being offered in the Senate) are necessary to ensure not only our current financial survival, but also that future generations are not made to suffer the sins of the past.