Preparing for the Lame Duck Session: Help Set an Anti-Poverty Agenda for 2013
As the 2012 election campaign season heated up this summer, Congress was increasingly distracted from its task of resolving important budget issues. When law makers reconvene for a brief session prior to the Nov. 6 general election, their attention will likely turn to a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. This would kick many big decisions to the lame duck session between the election and the new year. The legislation drafted by Congress during that session will have tremendous effects on hungry and poor people.
Despite a drought broiling the nation’s breadbasket and a Sept. 30 deadline, Congress has been unable to reach an agreement to reauthorize the farm bill. This delay puts in jeopardy the meager food security of more than 45 million people who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Many international food aid programs are also authorized through the farm bill. Current versions of the bill in both the Senate and the House propose severe cuts to food assistance programs, particularly SNAP.
Before the end of the year, Congress must also decide what to do about the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which expire on Dec. 31, 2012 — followed by across-the-board federal spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over ten years, starting on Jan. 2. The automatic spending cuts, also called sequestration, were placed on the federal calendar to force Congress to enact comprehensive deficit-reduction legislation. However, lawmakers haven’t been able to agree on a plan.
If Congress fails to override these triggers before the end of the year, many federal programs will be severely hampered, including nutrition for pregnant women, education for children from low-income households, access to vital medicine for people living with AIDS, and services for homeless people.
While many people fear the so-called "fiscal cliff" that the end-of-the-year deadlines bring, this challenge presents our nation with the opportunity to institute a balanced and comprehensive approach to deficit reduction. We can reduce projected deficits by raising additional tax revenues without further burdening low-income families. Grounded in a biblical commitment to government’s role in ending hunger, we view the federal budget as a moral document prioritizing our national values. Now is the time to stand for justice and compassion.
After the votes have been counted on Nov. 6 and the campaign hubbub has faded, our political leaders will convene to pass significant budget proposals. What will they take from the election season? If we have successfully made hunger and poverty central election issues, we can help shape the lame duck session during a momentous time and move the national conversation in 2013 to one about ending hunger and poverty.