The morality of budget choices

THE MORALITY OF BUDGET CHOICES…. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) raised an interesting rhetorical point in Tennessee over the weekend, which is worth considering in more detail.

In a speech Sunday night to the annual National Religious Broadcasters convention, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will frame the current debate on federal spending as a moral question, not just an economic one.

“We have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face,” Boehner says in his prepared remarks. “That means working together to cut spending and rein in government – not shutting it down.” […]

Boehner also will cast the problem of America’s $14.1 trillion national debt in moral terms, arguing that Congress has “a moral responsibility to deal with this threat to freedom and liberate our economy from the shackles of debt and unrestrained government.”

“Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country; it is also a moral threat,” Boehner says in the prepared speech. “It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children’s future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily.”

Now, at face value, I’ll gladly endorse the idea that there’s a moral component to policymakers’ decisions, and I’m perfectly comfortable with Boehner talking about “moral threats” and “moral responsibilities.” Indeed, I’m actually glad to hear him framing the process in those terms.

But I’d love to hear more from the Speaker about the extent of his moral commitments. Do we have a moral responsibility to address the needs of children? Boehner doesn’t seem to think so — he wants to gut funding for nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, as well as education. Do we have a moral responsibility to tend to those hurt while wearing the uniform? Boehner doesn’t seem to think so — he wants to take money out of veterans’ care.

Indeed, as long as the Speaker brought it up, what does he consider our collective moral responsibilities in the 21st century? Do they include environmental protections, which he’s trying to eliminate, or health care coverage, which he’s trying to destroy? Do they include job training, which he’s sought to eliminate, or consumer protections like food safety, which Boehner has voted to dramatically scale back?

If none of these areas of public life count as “moral responsibilities,” what would Boehner consider worthy?

As for the importance of not treating our “children so shabbily,” I’d also remind the Speaker that he’s already fought — and continues to fight — to cut Head Start, student loans, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children. This, in the mind of the nation’s most powerful Republican, will help make children’s futures brighter. (I suspect most families would prefer “shabbily” to this.)

And as long we’re on the subject, I’m curious when, exactly, Boehner discovered that “this debt is a moral threat to our country.” Was a $6 trillion debt a moral threat? How about an $8 trillion debt? The answer matters because it was none other than John Boehner who enthusiastically supported Bush-era policies that roughly doubled the national debt in just eight years, and handed Democrats a $1.3 trillion deficit and a $10 trillion debt to clean up.

Boehner never saw any of this as a “moral threat” until after he’d made the mess he’s now whining about. I wonder why that is?