Jim Wallis gets it right on theology and health care reform, part 1

Whatever your political affiliation and opinions on health care reform (really, just put them aside for a moment), I hope you’ll consider the questions Jim raises in an important short essay on war, health care, poverty, and debt. (excerpt after the jump)
Our current situation reminds me of a peaceful protest a few years ago in Washington, DC, in which I was arrested along with Jim and about a hundred others, including sagely activist Mary Nelson. I remember before our arrest Mary delivering a fiery “sermon on the sidewalk” where she said something like this:

We’re reversing the inspired words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Luke 1:53. We’re sending the poor away hungry and filling the rich with more and more good things!

After I had been handcuffed, the police officer who was escorting me to the transport van asked, “You people are really polite. What’s this protest about?”
I replied, “We’re protesting that we’re cutting taxes for the rich and cutting services for the poor.”
He replied, “Wow. That’s great. Somebody in this town has to stand up for the poor. Thanks for what you’re doing!”
Reading Jim’s piece also brought back to mind the old trickle-down economic theory on which the Republican tax cuts were based: invest in the rich and the poor will be helped automatically. Shouldn’t we re-evaluate how effective that huge “investment in the rich” has turned out in light of the investment banking crisis and the ensuing economic crash? We not only invested hundreds of billions in the richest Americans via tax cuts, but then we bailed out their investments with hundreds of billions more. This strikes me as a time to scrutinize a lot of our old economic platitudes in light of what reality has been trying to teach us in the last couple years.
Could it be that the rich would be more benefitted long-term by wise investment in the poor than they are by investment in themselves? Could it be that to compute the full cost of the tax cuts for the rich, we should include the costs of bailing out the big banks and other financial institutions in which their tax cuts were invested? Could it be that it is actually better – even financially – for our richest people to give than to receive? I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes the foolishness of God turns out – on balance sheets even – to be wiser than the wisdom of human beings.

From Jim Wallis:

Did you watch any of the health-care summit yesterday in Washington? Guess what? The Republicans and Democrats are divided and likely can’t find any common ground. All the morning press reports suggest that the Democrats may now use the parliamentary procedure known as “reconciliation” to pass a health-care bill with a simple majority and without any Republicans.
Rather than just repeat the arguments I’ve made repeatedly about the critical need for health-care reform in this country, and to include the tens of millions who are currently without health insurance (and sounding like a Democrat to some of you), let’s get theological. Republicans, of course, have also used reconciliation before to pass measures they wanted–like the Bush tax cuts. So, let’s look at that theologically.
First, the tax cuts that George Bush pushed through Congress overwhelmingly benefited the richest people in America–virtually all analysts agree with that fact. But many Americans haven’t really calculated that the cost of those tax cuts for the rich was literally double what health-care reform is projected to cost. Double. Yet, there was not even a mention from Republicans, then or now, about the fiscal cost of such enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America. And now they are doing everything they can to stoke public outrage about the cost of health-care reform (even though the Congressional Budget Office says the President’s proposal will likely reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade). How does that square with the biblical emphasis on the priority of the poor? There is simply no way to justify the habitual behavior of the current Republican party’s clear preference for the rich over everybody else. Probably my best friend in the Congress was Republican Senator Mark Hatfield. The current Republican Party is a very different one than it was in Hatfield’s time. I know he would not have liked the “theology” of his party today.