Christians Across the Political Spectrum Oppose Cuts to the Poor in Trump’s Budget

Commentary
By Jim Wallis 6-20-2017
A copy of President Trump's Fiscal Year 2018 budget is on display on Capitol Hill, May 23. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  

Tomorrow, for the first time since the start of the Trump administration, leaders from Christian families across the theological and political spectrum will speak with one voice — to oppose budget cuts that would harm vulnerable people and devastate families living in poverty.

We will be making this joint statement under the banner of the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of leaders from all the families of U.S. Christianity that was founded in 2011 in service of the biblical mandate to protect poor and vulnerable people. While individual members of the Circle have raised their voices in opposition to harmful budget cuts and legislation that the Trump administration and Congress have proposed — notably many of us came together for a powerful prayerful event outside the Capitol Building in late March for just such a purpose —this will be the first time that the entire Circle is making such a joint statement.

It is very significant that the first statement from such a broad base of Christian leaders — representing everyone from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Council of Churches, and National Association of Evangelicals, to the National Association of Latino Evangelicals, Proctor Conference, National African American Clergy Network, and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, to mainline denominations including the Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — is focused on protecting those that God calls us to serve and defend. Despite differences on many other issues, we have all come together to form a “circle of protection” around the poor in the critical upcoming budget decisions in Congress — and to ask our legislators across party lines, especially those of faith, to do the same.

Here are parts of the statement that we will speak to on Wednesday morning.

… Our Christian churches and organizations directly assist our neighbors in need every day; and we also support laws and policies which provide for the common good—with opportunities for all human persons to thrive and flourish.

God instructs us to protect the poor and vulnerable. Jesus tells us to serve and defend “the least of these.” The biblical prophets remind us that how we treat the most marginal and vulnerable among us is the test of a nation’s moral righteousness—telling kings and rulers that the measure of their governance is the well-being of those most in need.

We believe budgets are moral documents; they reveal our values and show our priorities, whether for families, churches, organizations, or governments. Budgets show who and what we view as important, and, likewise, who and what are not. We have deep moral concerns about the way this budget would impact those we are called to protect.

This budget proposes major cuts to programs for the poor, hungry, weak, sick, and most vulnerable. The lives of low-income African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and white Americans would be disproportionately impacted. The budget would increase hunger in America by cutting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) by more than 25%, mostly impacting low-income working families. It would significantly cut the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, and the Community Block Grants which support many vital neighborhood programs.

In addition, the House-passed health bill would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over ten years, taking health insurance away from 14 million low-income people, and 23 million Americans overall. As in the past, many low-income families would be vulnerable to hunger, poverty and bankruptcy when illness and the high costs of health care strike them. The administration’s budget proposes to cut yet another $600 billion from Medicaid for America’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

… We do not support sharp increases to defense spending that are made possible by corresponding reductions in non-defense discretionary spending, particularly in programs that help the poor and vulnerable. The biblical prophets teach us that our security depends in part on upholding justice for people in poverty.

… Therefore, we call on our members and congregations to contact their representatives to express their Christian convictions on these critical matters of public policy. We will ask all our constituencies to urge their members of the House and Senate to not cut programs that protect poor people and families.

And we call upon our political leaders in the House and the Senate to express their faith convictions in their votes. We commit to praying for our leaders as they develop wise legislation for the nation and especially for our most vulnerable citizens and neighbors…. As Jesus reminds us, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

While some the most dangerous elements of the president’s budget may not become law due to opposition from his own party in Congress, the important thing to understand is that the White House and congressional Republicans are determined to pass major tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, paid for by drastic cuts to effective programs for the poor. Some of those cuts would occur via repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and others of which are likely to come in a larger tax cut bill later this year. Members of the Republican Party also want to reduce the budget deficit; the only way to finance large tax cuts without exploding the deficit is to make significant spending cuts — and neither the White House nor the GOP has any willingness for those cuts to come from military spending, which they want to increase. As a result, nearly every non-military federal program is at risk for major cuts — and the president’s budget gets 60 percent of its cuts from programs that serve low- and moderate-income families who should not bear the burden of deficit reductions or tax cuts for the wealthy.

And here is what you can do about the biggest threat right now. By far the most imminent risk to programs that serve the poor is the ongoing effort in the Senate to pass its own version of the American Health Care Act, which would roll back the coverage achieved by millions of people through the Affordable Care Act. As our joint statement makes clear, the bill passed by the House in early May is morally unacceptable in that it will result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance compared to existing law, including 14 million of our poorest citizens who currently get their insurance via Medicaid.

This is a threat to people’s lives. — join us in making our voices heard.

Make no mistake, and do not be deceived by reporting that suggests the Senate GOP can’t agree on their health bill: They have a bill, and it’s being scored by the Congressional Budget Office as we speak. Certain pieces of it may still be up for negotiation to get the 50 Republican votes needed, but the major parts of the bill are done. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows the House bill is wildly unpopular with the American people and that his bill is not likely to be substantially more popular, so he is proceeding with utmost secrecy and speed, determined to pass the bill by the end of June so that his colleagues aren’t dissuaded by angry GOP constituents during the July 4 recess.

The text of the Senate bill is being kept very secret, which prevents public exposure and necessary debate. It is extremely likely that Senate Democrats, the American people, and even many Senate Republicans, will have as little as 28 hours between the text of the bill being made public and the Senate voting to pass it. E.J. Dionne last week called this process “fantastically anti-democratic,” and quotes a former Obama administration official who said, “I hate to think that looking back on this period, we’ll realize that the most regressive piece of social legislation in modern American history was passed, and no one was paying attention.”

As bipartisan Christian leaders, rising above the political debates, will say tomorrow: We must focus on our biblical instructions to protect the poor, and remind legislators, that budgets are moral documents and Jesus’ reminds all who would name his name, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

Speak to your senators; tell them people of faith are paying attention.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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