The Common Good

A Response to the American Enterprise Institute's Ad in Politico

Today, "Values and Capitalism," a project of the American Enterprise Institute, sponsored a full-page ad in Politico (see page 13) in response to the Circle of Protection. While it is encouraging to see another full-page ad urging our nation's legislators to be concerned about the poor, it is unfortunate that the critique of the Circle of Protection and Sojourners work is based on an error.

The ad reads:

How do we make helping the poor a priority as the budget debate continues? A blanket exception in budget cutting for poverty programs is not the way.

I'll try to clear up a misperception. The Circle of Protection has not and will not advocate a blanket exception for all poverty programs under any and all cuts. When the Circle of Protection was being organized, a lot of time and care went into drafting the initial statement to reflect a broad array of Christian traditions. And the group looked through all programs targeted at low-income people, and then deliberated on which ones were the most effective. This group included policy experts, former legislators, nonprofit organizations, and activists. The goal was not to give every low-income program a pass from scrutiny, but to produce a list of examples for legislators of the programs that Christian leaders are seeing work.

While the group never produced an official list, our unifying principle is that we should reduce deficits, but not on the backs of poor and vulnerable people. One of the principles of the Circle of Protection was that "funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut." Finding savings through ensuring that programs are effective, reducing waste, or avoiding duplication is welcome, but cuts that simply reduce needed services are not.

This confusion might have come from our concern that low-income programs not be included in the trigger mechanism of "automatic cuts." While we believe that some low-income programs could be made more effective, indiscriminate blanket cuts could result in a reduction of essential and life-saving services. This is why they have been traditionally exempted from that part of the process of budget cutting.

The text of the ad was taken from a longer letter addressed to the president and congressional leadership signed by a total of almost 90 Christians, including prominent names like Tony Perkins, the letter's authors (Timothy Dalrymple, P.J. Hill, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Eric Teetsel, Mark Tooley, and Wendy Wright), and grassroots signatories. After clearing up the confusion around the goals of the Circle of Protection, there leaves a lot of common ground with these Christian leaders and grassroots activists. Both their letter and the Circle of Protection affirm Christian concern for the poor, the role of private charity, the role of government social safety nets, concern for long term deficits, and the importance of good jobs in alleviating poverty.

Resources are limited, and those who are a part of the Circle of Protection are very concerned that resources are used wisely. The Circle has brought together a very broad spectrum of perspectives on how to do this best, and we welcome more.

To the nearly 90 signatories of this letter of concern, I believe we have more in common than what divides us. We welcome you to join the 60 heads of communion and national Christian leaders, 5,000 pastors, and more than 35,000 Christians who share your concern for the poor in forming a Circle of Protection during the budget debates.

Tim King is communications director at Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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