I heard about a memorial service the other day for an old friend’s sister. She was a home healthcare nurse without medical insurance. She knew she had something wrong with her, but she kept putting off going to the doctor because she was afraid – afraid of what might be wrong with her and afraid she couldn’t pay for any treatment. When she finally couldn’t stand the pain and uncertainty, she went to the doctor. But it was too late, the cancerous tumor had burst and she died within weeks.
I think this woman had other choices than the ones she made. And I am sure there were personal reasons for her behavior which I do not understand. But the fact that someone could not afford health care and died as a result makes me want to speak to the powers in the small way I have at hand today – this blog post.
I am feeling the prophet Isaiah on the subject:
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:1-3)
The legislators in congress, who, for the most part, equal “the rich,” have made choices and are on the verge of making more radical choices that have an impact on us all, especially the poor.
It is reported that Congressman Paul Ryan makes every member of his staff read philosopher Ayn Rand, the shameless promoter of the gospel of aggressive self-interest. His new budget proposal reflects this.
Jim Wallis says, “Congressman Ryan’s budget isn’t really about deficit reduction. It’s about choices — choices that will determine what kind of a country we become. And Paul Ryan has made the choice to hurt people who don’t have the political clout to defend themselves. Two-thirds of the long-term budget cuts that Ryan proposed are directed at modest and low-income people, as well as the poorest of the poor at home and abroad. At the same time, he proposed tax cuts up to 30 percent for some of our country’s wealthiest corporations.”
While cutting into our country’s modest attempt at providing a social safety net, people who call themselves “deficit hawks” completely ignore the most consistently wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget — our endless and unaccountable military spending.
“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims — laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?” (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)
Ryan’s budget is a bonanza for the rich and devastation for the poor. That’s a fact. It is frightening that the main rationale for the cuts is about the so-called immorality of deficit spending, instead of about the choices the officials are making about what kind of country we are becoming. Further impoverishing the poor in order to add more wealth to the wealthy is not an acceptable political or moral strategy.
When President Obama offered his budget he said, “In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”
But what Obama failed to say was that we are currently wasting lives and billions of dollars in Afghanistan on a strategy that fails to make us any safer, which is its stated justification. And he should mention the billions being spent on Iraq, Libya and untold expenditures in trying to police the world. For instance, the U.S. has 3,500 troops in Djibouti, 53,000 in Germany, and 8,000 in Qatar.
Last night we had a congressman in our meeting (a first, I think). He seemed like a nice man. I managed to open up the Israeli-Palestinian mess as part of our closing prayer. He started talking to me about it as soon as I shook his hand. He immediately embroiled us the intricacies of visionless statecraft. The whole congress seems to be tied up with Randian, self-interested competition, which results in a predictable, endless conflict over protecting wealth and getting more. Where are the wise people? I told him I needed to leave the government to him while I tried to serve Jesus. Mostly, I mean that. But when someone dies because they can’t afford healthcare, because they have been made afraid to go to the hospital, I think we all need to put on some Isaiah.
[On a related note: join us this Friday for the Good Friday vigil outside of Delia’s gun shop, 4pm]