The only thing that moves a politician more than a $1,000 check is a group of 100 committed constituents in a room. Because despite the very real and very dangerous influence of money in politics, votes remain the coin of our troubled civic realm.
Make no mistake – the primary reason Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week indefinitely delayed the effort (known at the “Better Care Reconciliation Act”) to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was the organized and vocal opposition to the bill from across the country. Even in deeply Republican Kansas, Sen. Jerry Moran (the only senator to hold an unscreened town hall during the recent July 4 recess) faced tough questions and strong opposition to the BCRA. On Monday evening, Moran’s publicly declared opposition was key to the demise of the bill.
As people of faith who believe that concern for the health of our fellow children of God is mandated by our Savior Jesus (“I was sick and you took care of me” – Matthew 25:36) this is a time to give thanks to God. We are grateful that wisdom and compassion have, at least temporarily, triumphed over cynicism and greed.
The faith community played a key role in this victory. As a leading member of the Circle of Protection, Sojourners has been meeting with senators and their staffs for weeks, bringing the concerns of Christians across the theological spectrum directly to decision-makers. We have come prepared with charts and numbers and arguments, of course. But more importantly we have come with stories. Stories from our churches. Stories from the food banks and shelters that our parishes run. Stories of the people in our congregations struggling to get by. We have asked those decision-makers — particularly those who identify as Christian — to think long and hard about how their faith could shape their views and votes. We have prayed with them and for them. And today we know that those prayers have been heard and answered.
But complacency is not an option. Opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been a core principal for the Republican Party for years. It’s unlikely they would simply walk away forever. Some conservatives will continue to push for a straight repeal of the ACA – something that would be popular with their conservative base but staunchly opposed by moderates in the party. Simply repealing the foundations of the ACA (expanded Medicaid coverage for poor Americans, federal subsidies for premiums, basic consumer protections for the insured) would devastate millions of people.
And the threats to poor and vulnerable people extend well beyond health care. This week the House Budget Committee will vote on their budget blueprint for 2018. That proposal calls for massive cuts — $200 billion worth — to everything from Social Security and Medicare to financial industry regulations to nutrition programs.
The House Appropriations Committee is trying to add $1.6 billion for a border wall along the southern border and to increase the reach of the Trump administration’s “deportation force” that is separating families and spreading fear throughout immigrant communities. Sojourners was proud to sign on to a letter to Congress from faith leaders opposing this unwise idea. We note:
“As people of faith, our concern stems from shared values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us. As Leviticus 19:33-34 reminds us: ‘Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ The sacred responsibility of our government is the well-being of the human person, and we recognize the dignity and humanity of all of our immigrant community members.”
The House is also proposing a $528 million cut to the Environmental Protection Agency next year, jeopardizing EPA’s work to ensure clean air and clean water and to protect our public lands. In addition, it would propose delaying a rule to reduce smog and undercut proposed ban on several highly toxic chemicals.
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department is trying to threaten voting rights, return to deeply unfair mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, and increase the federal government’s use of private prisons.
So while we can and should take a moment to acknowledge – even to celebrate – this week’s health care news, the work of kingdom-building is far from over.
As Paul exhorts the Galatians, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”