The Common Good

Obama and Bush Allies Target Poverty

Source: ABC News
Date: February 18, 2009

Bush and Obama allies came together this week to promote a series of initiatives to reduce poverty in the United States.

"The moral test, the religious test, the Biblical test of any society is how we treat the most vulnerable," said the Rev. Jim Wallis at the Tuesday launch of the Poverty Forum.

Wallis, who sits on President Barack Obama's faith-based council, teamed up on the project with Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Wallis and Gerson, the Poverty Forum's co-chairs, recruited one liberal and one conservative from the faith community to study eight different issues affecting the poor. 

The proposals, which range from asset building to family policy, have been sent to the Obama administration through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wallis says he and other representatives of the Poverty Forum are scheduled to meet on Friday with Joshua DuBois, the head of the president's faith office, and Martha Coven from Obama's Domestic Policy Council.

Gerson, who now works as a Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the Christian leaders who collaborated on the Poverty Forum's policy proposals an "orgy of strange bedfellows."

"It demonstrates that bipartisanship is possible at a time when this is being questioned," said Gerson. "But more than that, it demonstrates that the most effective bipartisanship is achieved around innovation, not just dialogue but action."

Of the group's 28 initiatives, the proposal of greatest concern to liberals on the panel according to a source familiar with its work was the recommendation to keep Bush's "unborn child" provision as part of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP).

Progressives are typically weary of ratifying any language which could later be used to build a legal argument against abortion rights but Wallis sees the provision as a useful tool for expanding health-care coverage.

"We've got to get past the old fear of slippery slopes and what this language might mean to this legal argument," Wallis told ABC News.

"We didn't do this to get into a debate about abortion," he added. "The unborn child regulation here actually helps you to cover women who are undocumented."

The initiative of greatest concern to conservatives on the panel according to a source familiar with its work was the call to increase to the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

"There were some questions about timing on a proposal like this, particularly at a time where you want to do job creation for low-income people because there is some trade-off in minimum wage laws," Gerson told ABC News. "But I came to the view, and I think many conservatives would, that I don't have an ideological objection to increasing the minimum wage under the right circumstances. And the proposal here in the Poverty Forum is actually a pretty moderate one."

The proposal calls for increasing the minimum wage by "at least" $1.00 above the $7.25 rate which becomes effective in July 2009 and then regularly adjusting it for inflation.

Another possible point of contention for conservatives is the Poverty Forum's call for restoring federal voting rights for ex-felons.

Gerson, who supports the proposal, defended the idea, saying, "We are the society of the second chance."

"That is a basic commitment of many faith communities: that our actions in life are not a final judgment on our identity as a person," he added.

Other measures proposed by the Poverty Forum include depositing $500 into a savings account for every child born in the United States, establishing a "financial services corps" to promote economic literacy, and extending the child care tax credit.