The Bipartisan Poverty Forum

By Jim Wallis 2-19-2009

Through the partisan fistfight of the general election, in the midst of political posturing during the transition, and moving forward in spite of a Congress split down party lines, a bipartisan group of leaders has found common ground in one thing -- God's concern for the poor. Four months ago, and well before any of us knew who would be president, people of faith from across the political spectrum began meeting to discuss practical policy initiatives that would reflect our common belief that God has called us to care for the least of these. In what is now known as The Poverty Forum, Mike Gerson, President Bush's speech writer for six years, and I co-chaired a group of leaders and policy experts who were convened by Sojourners and The Clapham Group. You can read more about the forum and a list of participants.

In a press conference yesterday, The Poverty Forum publically announced a list of policy proposals aimed at reducing poverty in our country. Each proposal was developed by a pair of leaders coming from different political perspectives on a wide range of issues from health care to prison reform. You can read the full list of proposals here and also listen to the entire press conference.

I recently heard a reporter comment that it just might be time to start looking at the mid-term elections for clues as to what Congress might do. I couldn't help but conclude at how broken the logic of this city can be. Our litmus test for each policy proposal was to turn the logic of Washington D.C. on its head and ask first, "What would each policy do for the poor?"

The Poverty Forum has gathered leaders together who agreed on the end goal, care for the poor, just not always how to get there. As Mike Gerson said in the press conference today, we built relationships and trust with one another not only for dialogue but for innovation. Chuck Donovan had this to say about the group in the Wall Street Journal:

"This is an opportunity to get attention for some ideas that might not be taken as seriously if they came directly from the Family Research Council" or other advocacy groups easily pigeonholed as conservative or liberal, Mr. Donovan said.

It is my hope that this group serves as an example for what bipartisanship can achieve when the end goal is agreed upon, and I hope Congress was watching. As Steve Waldman wrote this week:

If you can strip away the political barnacles to reveal the pure idea beneath, you've served a real public purpose. That is good bipartisanship.

With an estimated 9 million more people about to fall into poverty, we need now more than ever to show that poverty is a bipartisan issue and a non-partisan cause.

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