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Tara Culp-Ressler
Tara Culp-Ressler, Faith in Public Life’s Executive and Development Assistant, came to FPL after graduating from American University and interning with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Interfaith Voices. She blogs about immigration and economic issues.

New Study Confirms Investments in Domestic Priorities Better than Defense for Job Creation

December 8, 2011, 2:33 pm | By Tara Culp-Ressler

In the ongoing economic debate over the most effective way to manage debt and create jobs, conservative ideologues have maintained a hard line of cutting taxes and slashing spending–except when it comes to the defense budget. Paradoxically, while dismissing the ability of government spending to create jobs, conservatives simultaneously insist that reducing military spending will lead to greater unemployment. However, a new study from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, proves this talking point wrong.

The study shows that investing money in domestic sectors rather than defense programs actually creates more jobs than funneling those funds to military programs alone. The two economists who authored the study used figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the number of jobs created by government spending in areas like tax cuts, energy, health care, and education. The chart from the study illustrates the number of jobs that each area created from a billion dollars in spending:

JobsCreatedBySpending.png

It’s easy to see that military spending isn’t as crucial to creating jobs as the conservative talking points would have you believe–in fact, it’s not even close to the most important spending area. The combined areas of major domestic spending–investing in clean energy, health care, and education–create about twice as many jobs per dollar than military spending. Even separately, it’s clear that the numbers come out higher than the military category. As the study’s authors conclude, “spending on clean energy, health care, and education will all create many more jobs overall, at all pay levels, than spending on the military.”

In order to work toward a moral budget that takes the needs of all Americans into account, it’s important to get past the rhetoric to find economic solutions that will actually help put struggling Americans back to work. It’s immoral to pursue a budget that slashes government spending for important domestic programs while refusing to trim spending in an area that has proven less effective at spurring job creation.

H/T ThinkProgress

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House Hearing Reveals Fundamental Policy Difference in Religious Liberty Debate

December 7, 2011, 2:00 pm | By Tara Culp-Ressler

As John noted yesterday, some Catholic bishops and conservative pundits have been criticizing the Obama administration for a purported “anti-Catholic bias,” citing a Department of Health and Human Services grant with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that was not renewed. The HHS funding is awarded to organizations that aid victims of human trafficking; staffers explained that HHS’s decision resulted from a “strong preference” for groups that provide a “full range of gynecological and obstetric care,” which would include information about contraceptive and abortion services.

Last Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a congressional hearing to examine whether HHS’s funding decision was a case of discrimination against faith-based groups. Two opposing threads of reasoning emerged, highlighting the fundamental dichotomy at the heart of this debate.

On one hand, House Committee Chair Darrell Issa argued that the government has a responsibility to accommodate faith-based groups that may fall outside of the bounds of specific guidelines. In an exchange with HHS Assistant Secretary George Sheldon, Issa illustrated his point with a comparison to an Orthodox Jew seeking employment as a driver despite the fact that he is unable to perform his driving duties on the Jewish Sabbath:

ISSA: “Mr. Sheldon… we’re not arguing today specifically about whether those services are right or wrong, about abortions…any of that. We’re arguing over who had the responsibility. And you seem to think–repeatedly, in every answer–that the bishops had the responsibility and I’m going to say from this position as chair that we, the government, have the responsibility to square executive orders, and the law, and our requests for proposals and grant writing. Not the religious-based person who says ‘I can’t drive on Friday night through Saturday at dusk because of my religion, and yes there’s someone else who can’t do it on Sundays; let’s reconcile that.’ It’s our obligation as government. That’s my view.”

D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton voiced the other perspective, disagreeing that the government is responsible for finding ways to reconcile their objectives with faith-based groups’ objectives:

NORTON: “I just want to say for the record that this is a hearing about public money. No one is entitled to a grant in the United States, faith-based or otherwise. There is no preference for any group to receive a grant, and each funding cycle is a new cycle. Public money in our country comes from people with many different background and many different views. They come continually from people with many different religious views. So there is only one issue here, and that issue seems to be whether HHS followed or failed to follow the objective procedures for awarding a grant… I don’t see how Congress can be concerned with anything but two issues: were the procedures followed, and are we paying attention first and foremost to the victims – as opposed to the organizations whose power systems, after all, are in competition with one another?

In this light, allegations of the Obama administration’s anti-religious bias distract from this larger policy debate. It’s important to recognize the root of the conflict in order to have a respectful debate going forward.

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Advocates Deliver 50,000 Petitions Calling for Repeal of Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law

November 21, 2011, 2:58 pm | By Tara Culp-Ressler

HB-56 sign.jpg Alabama’s extreme HB-56 immigration law has drawn harsh criticism from those who seek a just, compassionate approach to immigration reform–including people of faith, who would be targeted under the discriminatory legislation for aiding their undocumented neighbors.

This past Saturday, during a peaceful rally on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol building, opponents of HB-56 delivered nearly 50,000 petitions demanding an end to the law. The petitions include 7600 Faithful America members who are standing in solidarity with Alabama’s families and calling on Alabama governor Robert Bentley to repent and work to repeal the draconian law.

Jose Antonio Castro, a Spanish-language radio host who has been covering the stories of Alabama residents affected by HB-56, made the following statement at the rally:

“These petitions show that people are paying attention to what is happening here in Alabama and are having these discussions not only here, but all over the country… As we deliver these 50,000 petitions from across the country to Governor Robert Bentley, the message is clear: HB 56 is hurting Alabama. This law must be repealed. Let’s stop separating families in our state. It’s time to give our people back their dignity and respect. It’s time to show that history will not repeat itself in Alabama.”

Watch the petition delivery here.

Photo credit: America’s Voice

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The Danger of Privatizing Government Support Programs

November 7, 2011, 11:36 am | By Tara Culp-Ressler

A recent article on New Deal 2.0, a project of the Roosevelt Institute, highlights the fact that even though Bank of America has rescinded its threat to instate a $5 fee for its debit cards, big banks continue to profit from debit card use. Since benefits from government programs like unemployment aid and food stamps can now be administered through prepaid debit cards, rather than cash, users are running up fees for using these cards at banks like JP Morgan or Bank of America–and big banks are reaping the rewards. As the New Deal 2.0 reporter explains:

“Big banks are making a tidy profit by acting as middlemen for what should be publicly provided services. In just three months, from July and September, Ross reports that U.S. Bancorp, which provides unemployment benefit debit cards, made $357 million in revenue in the division that handles the cards. That amount is more than one-fourth of its total revenue. I previously reported that JP Morgan made $5.47 billion in net revenue for most of last year in the division that handles food stamp cards, and it was up two percent is the last three months of the year. The head of the division himself has said, ‘Volumes have gone through the roof in the last couple of years… This business is a very important business to JPMorgan in terms of its size and scale.’”

In addition to banks profiting off of prepaid debit card fees, some of them are also getting paid directly by state governments to administer these social safety net programs. Overall, this system results in big banks profiting from hard economic times that strain American families–as more Americans enroll in food stamp programs, banks collect more money from fees and more money from the state.

But, as the article points out, the immoral nature of benefiting from the country’s economic hardship isn’t the only problem here. The larger issue points to what political scientist Suzanne Mettler refers to as the “submerged state.” Mettler uses the term to describe government programs that are increasingly manifesting themselves in the private sector–such as government subsidized loans offered through private banks–thereby obscuring the direct role of government. Mettler’s research shows that majorities of people surveyed about the role of government in their lives claimed to have “never used a government social program,” despite the fact that they had actually received government aid through the submerged state. Home mortgage interest deduction, student loans, and social security benefits are among the submerged state programs that top the list. As Mettler explains, “Polices of the submerged state obscure the role of the government and exaggerate that of the market, leaving citizens unaware of how power operates, unable to form meaningful opinions, and incapable, therefore, of voicing their views accordingly.”

To be fair, in as much as this submersion helps reduce the stigma that prevents some people in need from taking advantage of government support, it probably has some short-term benefits. However, continuing to disguise social programs as commercial goods won’t address the root of that misguided stigmatization, the pervasive aversion to so-called “big government.” As current political debates hinge on the role of government in protecting the most vulnerable members of society, it’s critical to recognize all of the largely invisible–and critically important–ways that social safety net programs aid the American people. Bringing the submerged state to light may help the public see the positive role that government can continue to play in their lives, especially with the current economy still reeling from the effects of recession, and reframe the larger debate about social programs. Perhaps our lawmakers will start to get it, too.

Photo Credit: Tray, Flickr

H/T Think Progress

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Jim Wallis Rebuts False Accusations from Religious Right

September 21, 2011, 12:21 pm | By Tara Culp-Ressler

Thumbnail image for WallisinDCdemo.jpgLast month, we noted conservative groups’ misguided critiques of the Circle of Protection’s call for economic justice, pointing out the logically flawed argument from Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE). Cloaking their conservative economic policy and dependency rhetoric in faith-based language, CASE seeks to portray cuts to government programs as the “moral” way to approach budget reform.

Sojourner’s Jim Wallis, a member of the Circle and a vocal advocate for a moral budget, publically responded to CASE in a recent interview with the Christian Post. Wallis asserted that CASE has attempted to misrepresent the Circle’s intentions by suggesting that the Circle favors a “blanket defense” of government programs rather than practical economic solutions to address the national debt. As Wallis explained:

“We say growth and jobs are part of the solution, so they shouldn’t say that we don’t, because we do. They shouldn’t say that we offer a blanket defense of every government program or that government is the sole answer to poverty. We say the opposite. We don’t say that, and they shouldn’t say that we do.”

In his interview, Wallis agreed that CASE and the Circle agree on some things, such as a shared concern for the poor and the need to address growing debt. However, the groups diverge on how to implement these values in policy, especially when it comes to revenue. While CASE focuses on the “threat” of government spending and opposes any kind of tax increases to address the national debt, the Circle advocates for revenue reform as an alternative to extreme spending cuts to important programs that safeguard the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

As Wallis put it, “The Bible has no objection, in my view, to making the wealthy pay their fair share, which is more than they’re paying now, and I think most Christians would agree with that.” This concept is, of course, in line with President Obama’s new tax plan to balance spending cuts with tax increases for the wealthy to address the national deficit. As the Catholic bishops and other clergy across the country call for a balanced and compassionate approach to deficit reduction rather than the anti-tax ideology of conservative lawmakers, it’s becoming clear that mainstream people of faith reject CASE’s platform. It’s good to see Jim Wallis stand up for the common good principles driving the Circle of Protection over CASE’s out of touch policies.

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