Dear Speaker Boehner: An Open Letter on the Debt and Budget

As signs continue that the debt ceiling crisis is now going to negatively impact the United States and world economy — even if there is some eleventh hour solution — here’s a must-read: an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner. The author: Michael Stafford, a 2003 graduate of Duke University School of Law and a former Republican Party office who works as an attorney in Wilmington, Delaware and is the author of the book “An Upward Calling” on the need for public policy and politics to advance the common good. Here’s part of it:

As a Republican, I have followed your handling of the debt ceiling negotiations, and the future of the federal budget, with mounting concern. You appear to be engaged in a game of partisan brinksmanship with our nation’s financial future. Now is not the time for scoring political points or playing to the fantasies of the anti-government libertarian zealots within our Party.

Your handling of the debt ceiling negotiations, and the prior budget proposals advanced in Representative Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity,” makes it clear that the GOP is more concerned with protecting the interests of America’s most wealthy citizens, even to the detriment of the rest of us, and to the common good. For example, it is farcical to frame the debt and the deficit as merely problems of spending- they are, in fact, issues created by both expenditures and revenues. Nor is taking an axe to the federal government an acceptable solution- traditionally, we conservatives have been in favor of a limited government, not an eviscerated one. In the end, we simply have to pay for the services we expect government to provide. As such, a discussion of raising additional revenue- taxes- must be a part of any long-term solution.

Our corporations benefit from one of the lowest effective rates of taxation in the industrialized world. And yet, under your leadership, Congressional Republicans have dug in their heals and- for the most part- refused to consider closing tax loopholes for big business or, most importantly, raising income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
Such a solution, coupled with spending reductions and entitlement reform, is just and equitable. It recognizes two fundamental realities: first, that corporate profits have increased during the present “recovery” even as wages, and hiring, have not. Second, that the top 1 percent of income earners in America have amassed an increasing share of our nation’s wealth over the past several decades while wages for most Americans have stagnated or declined.

In the Book of Genesis, God famously asked, “Cain, where is your brother Abel?” This question still resonates today- it reminds us of our duty to care for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the most marginalized elements in society. Does the Republican Party no longer see any role for government in providing for these groups? That certainly seems to be the case given the spending cuts proposed by Congressman Ryan. While some entitlement reform is necessary, the cuts in Rep. Ryan’s plan amounted to a repudiation of our collective responsibilities towards our fellow citizens. Speaker Boehner, do Congressional Republicans know where their brother Abel is today?

Every American understands that sacrifices are necessary. But sacrifices demand a balancing of benefits and burdens. Is it right and just that those Americans who have benefited the most from the economic growth over the past 30 years and from the recovery should see their burdens lightened in this time of fiscal crisis while those who have benefited the least- average Americans who have seen their jobs outsourced overseas, their wages stagnate or decline, their benefits reduced- are told to carry an additional share? I think the answer is obvious: it is not.

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