Health care legislation has finally reached the Senate for action. It’s
been a long wait, since the relevant committees in the House of Representative
took their action quite a while back.
And now, of course, the issue comes down to money. Who is going to
pay? And how much?
I’m sorry, but did you think I was referring to legislation on health
care reform that passed the Senate’s Finance Committee with just one
affirmative Republican vote — the proposal that would reshape how health
care in the United States could be financed so that a lot more people
would have access to it?
But I was actually referring to the health legislation that has a far larger
and longer impact, and one that will, in the end, cost a lot more.
In the Senate it’s called "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,"
although in the House it went by the "American Clean Energy and Security
Act" back months ago when that chamber considered it. They could just as well have added "Global Health" to those titles.
What both bills do is limit carbon emissions that cause global warming
and set efficiency and renewable energy standards far into the future
for our nation. That’s the good part.
One important point where the two bills differ is being crystal clear
about who ends up paying for this, and how much. What’s clear in both
bills is that energy costs are going to rise. So the question is whether
people who are in or right on the edge of poverty will have to pay for
the rising costs at the same rate as those who are somewhat or a lot
better off. The bill that the House of Representatives passed made specific
provisions for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. So far,
the Senate bill contains only rhetoric in that direction — and we all
know what happens when only rhetoric rules.
So people of faith and conscience who are concerned about economic
justice have their assignment for contacting their Senators and making
sure that the Senate legislation is as specific as the House’s in making
allowances for the poor and near poor.
It’s a way of assuring that we are all drinking from the same cup in terms
of the actual impact of this important legislation on everyone’s economic
Something similar operates on a global scale as this U.S. environmental
legislation and other U.S. environmental policies are brought to
an international summit in Copenhagen in December.
The so-called "developed nations" have been taking advantage of a free
ride on greenhouse gas emissions for decades and centuries — during
those times, that is, when the problem of global warming was not a recognized
problem virtually anywhere. These nations have profited enormously from
that free ride — which explains, in part, why they are so far ahead
economically over other less-developed nations.
But now every nation has to be a part of reducing emissions and slowing
global warming, since every nation would face disaster if nothing is
done. The painful price has to be paid for those near-and-long-term
Yet how could we seriously entertain the notion that poor and near-poor
nations should bear on an equal basis with us the challenge we collectively
face, given all the benefits the so-called developed nations have reaped
over the decades and centuries?
To their credit, the so-called developing nations have let it be known
that they aren’t about to sign on to a treaty that would help the whole
world address global warming unless they receive major assistance from
the so-called developed nations.
And, to their credit, the so-called developed nations have said they
But so far, it’s all rhetoric.
So people of faith and conscience who are concerned about both environmental
and economic justice have still another assignment in these coming weeks:
it is to make absolutely certain that our own country takes the lead
in making specific and just proposals for funding an international program
of action on the environment. That means contacting Senators
and Representatives, as well as the White House, to insist that justice
be done on our part, and in our advocacy toward other so-called developed
In the Gospel of Mark (chapter 10, vv 35–40), a couple of the disciples
ask Jesus for the favor of being seated by him when he enters into his
glory — one on his right side and the other on the left. Jesus, in the
end, tells the two disciples that it isn’t up to him to make the seating
arrangements at that glorious time to come. But what he does have the
right to ask is whether the disciples are willing and able to drink
from the same cup as he will drink on this side of glory.
That involves, Jesus suggests, making the self-sacrifices that will
be costly in order that others will be served and saved.
The disciples, without fully knowing what this means, indicate that
they are, indeed, willing and able to drink from the same cup.
I suspect those of us who are followers of Jesus today are in somewhat
the same situation — not knowing exactly all that’s at sake for us in
advocating for justice on issues such as global warming. But at the
very minimum it would seem to involve recognition that "sharing the
same cup," not just with Jesus but with our fellow citizens of the world,
requires some exceptional sacrifice, especially for those of us who
have been able to avoid that sacrifice for so long.