Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber held a summit meeting today to discuss poverty with special guest Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK. The fact that Kitzhaber was discussing poverty at all half-way into a third term is noteworthy. This is the same governor, after all, who proposed lifetime TANF limits on Oregonians more stringent than anything Newt Gingrich pushed as he tried to dismantle America's safety net as U.S. House Speaker. At the same time, in an effort to balance Oregon's budget, Kitzhaber proposed tax breaks for corporations. In other words, he was willing to balance Oregon's budget on the backs of our state's must vulnerable. It is sometimes hard to imagine this is the same man who fought so hard to expand health care in the 1980s. I hope Governor Kitzhaber learned something today from Sister Simone, one of our nation's great moral leaders. The governor talked movingly in his last State of the State Address about the need to confront growing economic inequality in Oregon but those words have not been matched with bold new policies. Will our governor end another four years in office with no concrete efforts to reduce poverty or will he answer the challenge raised by faith leaders and others to make a real difference in the lives of Oregonians who have suffered because of bad economic polices nationally and indifference locally?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
I've joined colleagues Sr. Simone Campbell, Jim Wallis and 60 other faith leaders from across the nation in telling Congress: "There is nothing 'pro-life' or Christian about taking food away from pregnant women and babies. It is hypocritical and shameful for those who tout their commitment to family values to show such callous indifference."
My latest in The Huffington Post:
"Tea Party Republicans, who so often argue that America is a Christian nation, have turned their back on the most basic of Christian values: concern for those in poverty, compassion, justice, and setting the captives free."Shutdown Turns Americans Into Captives In Need of Delivery
We've watched poverty grow ever since 2001. Without President Obama's effort that growth would even be more stark. But we need a plan to reduce poverty, not just slow the growth, and that is why the National Council of Churches and other people of faith, are supporting the Half in Ten Campaign. Now is your turn. Your member of Congress needs to hear that you want them to co-sponsor the Half in Ten Act of 2013.
Action Alert from the Half in Ten Campaign
On May 23, 2013, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) introduced the Half in Ten Act of 2013, calling for poverty reduction to be a national priority. This bill will help mobilize public and political will toward our shared goal of dramatically cutting poverty over the next decade and promoting shared economic growth that renews the American Dream.
By creating a Federal Interagency Working Group, a coordinated effort across federal departments and offices charged with developing within six months a national strategy to cut poverty in half in 10 years and eliminate child poverty and extreme poverty in our nation, the bill promotes accountability for progress by helping identify problems and successful initiatives and ensures that those with the greatest barriers to joining the middle class are included in efforts to create greater opportunity for all.
Importantly, the bill recognizes that cutting poverty in half in 10 years will require steps to create good, family-supporting jobs as well as to strengthen our network of work and income supports to provide greater economic security to millions of families.
We must build support for this critical legislation and for the policies that will enable us to reach the Half in Ten target. Poverty must be a national priority, and the Half in Ten Act of 2013 is the first step. But this will only happen if we tell our elected representatives to support the bill.
Portland faith leaders are standing up for 26-151 and Healthy Kids Healthy Portland because "one of our core principles is that the blessings of our community should be felt by all, not just a few." Fluoridation of our water will help our kids and entire city. The numbers have gotten slightly better but we still face a true crisis. Read the arguments in support of 26-151 at
Today I've joined Sister Simone Campbell, leader of "Nuns on the Bus," in co-authoring an op-ed published in The Hill critical of the budget choices under consideration in Washington:
"As faith leaders, we have spoken out consistently about the moral bankruptcy of Republican federal budget proposals over the last 2 years, and we have supported President Obama’s commitment to protecting the poorest Americans from cuts to crucial programs like food stamps and Medicaid. The president's just released budget, however, falls short of the moral vision many faith leaders have for this country and the president's own ideals as embodied in his second Inaugural Address. While the Obama administration’s 2014 budget has some admirable measures and is far superior to the House GOP plan, it does not go far enough in promoting the common good and protecting the vulnerable."President's budget doesn't reflect our values.
My oped this morning in The Salem Statesman Journal:
"There are at least 90 students experiencing homelessness at North Portland’s Roosevelt High School. That shouldn’t come as a surprise in a state where as many as 20,000 students were homeless at one point during the past school year."Don't leave homeless children behind.
My latest in The Huffington Post:
"America can and should be better than Paul Ryan envisions it. Our nation should be a place where we are our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper. We are not a morally bankrupt nation, and so we must oppose Paul Ryan's proposals."Ryan Budget Offers Vision of Morally Bankrupt America
Today at Sunnyside Church members took time following worship to write letters to members of Congress and the White House encouraging our national leaders to do more in the fight against poverty as part of Bread for the World's annual Offering of Letters.
This is a wondeful way to engage congregations to the fight to end poverty in America:
Each year, Bread members write to their members of Congress, advocating for policies that help end hunger in the United States and around the world. Often, letter writing is organized in churches and taken up as an offering before sending them to Congress. But we encourage all people who care about hunger to write to their representatives and senators, whether in groups or individually.
The Oregon Family Council (OFC) called my office this morning to see if I’d be joining their "Pastors Day at the Capitol." This is where they bring “Tea Party Jesus” to the politicians.
On Facebook, the OFC has stated that the “Oregon Family Council serves over 2,000 Churches and over 40,000 families from across the state who come from a broad spectrum of denominational backgrounds within the Christian community” and that as a 501 ( c ) non profit they “are not affiliated with any political party. Party platforms or points of view play no role whatsoever in our evaluation and recommendations on ballot measures.”
What they fail to mention is they also operate a political action committee that gives 100% of their money to GOP candidates.
What ballot measures have they endorsed in the past? Those that benefit the wealthiest Oregonians at the expense of those Jesus would have called the “least of these.”
Their stances have been opposed by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, our state’s association of churches and other faith leaders who view public policy through Christian theology and not just a political agenda.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t a Christian organization but rather a political machine to support GOP candidates and causes.
At their "Pastors Day at the Capitol," the OFC claims to be coming to protect religious freedoms under attack:
Our religious freedoms are under direct assault on many fronts today. This year’s event is a must for every pastor and church leader from around the state. Local and national experts on religious liberty will be in attendance to address where we stand in regards to our religious freedoms and how we can preserve these freedoms for future generations.
The most hotly debated issue concerning "religious freedom" has centered around President Obama's health care law - passed with the strong support of the National Council of Churches - and the argument that it infringes on religious liberty has been rejected by nearly all.
Sally Steenland, Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, notes this is part of a national movement that has nothing to do with religious freedom:
…conservatives are setting up religious-liberty caucuses in states across the country. One of the goals of this effort is to pass laws with broad exemptions allowing those who oppose reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples, and other measures of gay and transgender equality the ability to opt out of antidiscrimination laws and policies without being sued. This is not a new political strategy. It turns out we’ve been down this road before. In fact it is a road that has deep and all-too-familiar ruts from similar fights decades ago.
During the civil rights battle in the 1960s, for example, segregationists used religious justifications to oppose interracial marriage and integration. God created the races to be separate, they argued, which was why he put them on separate continents. To support any kind of race mixing—whether in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, schools, churches, or businesses—was a sin. Civil rights opponents denied they were bigoted. On the contrary, they were simply following biblical teachings and obeying God’s will. Forcing them to abide by civil rights laws would be a grave violation of their conscience and an assault on their religious liberty.
Fortunately, segregationists did not get the religious exemptions they desired.
It is important that people of faith stand up to political groups like the Oregon Family Council and their agenda that in the name of Jesus seeks to shift ever further economic policies so that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, while at the same time they advance proposals to discriminate against people all in the name of religious freedom.
I told the caller I won’t be attending the Oregon Family Council’s "Pastors Day at the Capitol." Instead, I’ll be joining with people of faith to oppose their plans.
My latest in The Huffington Post:
"The faith community has an important role to play in advancing an agenda that addresses the important moral issues faced by our nation. We have a big job ahead of us but there is hope."
Repairing the Breach in the Union: A Respone to the President's Address
President Obama is set to soon deliver his State of the Union Address. We need the president to follow-up his powerful Inaugural Address with a serious discussion about how to reduce poverty in his message before Congress. That is what I shared with President Obama in a letter earlier this week. You can send a message to the president as well.
Via the Half in Ten Campaign:
Use social media to inspire President Obama to: (1) speak out for struggling families during his address, and (2) protect critical programs that reduce poverty in his budget request to Congress. February 12th is the President’s first State of the Union address in his second term. The fiscal showdown didn’t end on January 1st. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road and many of the most important programs that support struggling families in our country are still under threat. So, let’s take to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to support the President’s statements on cutting poverty in his inaugural address and ask for continued support of low-income programs in the state of the union and budget proposal. Together we can show the White House why these programs are so important, and who has inspired us to support them.
The Half in Ten Campaign is support by the Juctice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, along with many others in the faith community.
Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_State_of_the_Union_Address
A Portland-area bakery recently refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple based on their religious objections to same-sex marriage. As I told KOIN-TV this weekend, the response wasn't Christian but discriminatory.
Let's be clear: homosexuality is not a sin. Bigotry is. A generation ago - when Barack Obama's parents were married - interracial marriage was illegal in many states and businesses refused to accommodate interracial couples. These private businesses often used the Bible to justify their discriminatory acts.
This incident is no different. Oregon law protects gays and lesbians from discrimination. A private business has no right to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. The Oregon Department of Justice is now investigating. They will determine whether or not a crime has been committed.
But certainly a sin has been committed by the owners of Sweet Cakes Bakery. Their website says they make cakes for "any occasion." Unless you are gay, apparently. What they have done is no different from those who a generation ago turned away interracial couples. As a minister ordained to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I find no place in Holy Scripture that justifies such discrimination. My hope is that the owners of the bakery have an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on this issue and repent.
The decision by Providence Health to stop distributing a guide on low-income health care services jointly published by Street Roots and the Multnomah County Department of Health because the 104-page guide lists Planned Parenthood as one of the services available is deeply disappointing and should cause public agencies to review any contracts with Providence Health and for Oregonians to consider whether or not they want to continue supporting Providence with contributions - or even to seek medical care at Providence facilities.
Providence Health's decision to deny much needed health care information about available resources to vulnerable populations in our community, along with health care workers, does nothing to advance the common good. Providence Health is operated by the the Sisters of Providence, a Roman Catholic organization, and I certainly respect their opposition to abortion services which is deeply rooted in their faith and is not political. But Providence Health's decision to stop distributing this guide, which includes information on family planning, will only increase unwanted pregnancies and thus increase the number of abortions. It will hurt many others who are seeking emergency shelter, housing, alcohol and drug treatment and mental health treatment.
The radicalization of the Roman Catholic Church's position on this issue, along with the lines they have crossed over it into the partisan political arena at the national level, is deeply concerning. If they are unable to provide medical care to Multnomah County residents in a way that is respectful of the church's values and the medical needs of women and low-income residents there are other hospitals than can. It is time to review the place of Providence Health in the Portland community.
It is worth noting that many in the faith community support letting women make their own health care decisions. The United Church of Christ and the the United Methodist Church are among many Christian denominations, along with interfaith communities, that make up the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
As has been the case, those with lower incomes continue to give more - according to a new report:
Ever wonder how charitable the people are who live in your state or community? It turns out that lower-income people tend to donate a much bigger share of their discretionary incomes than wealthier people do. And rich people are more generous when they live among those who aren't so rich.
That's according to a new study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which breaks charitable giving down by ZIP code. It found that generosity varies greatly from one region of the country to another.
It makes sense that those who are wealthy that live in lower income areas would give more. Once you are exposed to social issues I think the natural response is to want to help.
But here's something progressives ought to note: "Red states are more generous than blue states. The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity went for John McCain in 2008. The seven-lowest ranking states supported Barack Obama."
As the Portland City Council debates whether or not to put floride in our city's water, I've written a personal letter in support of the plan. Portland remains one of the few cities not to include fluoride in the water and thus our children suffer with some of the hightest rates of tooth decay in the nation.
Dear Commissioner Leonard and members of the Portland City Council:
I want to express my personal support for the proposed fluoridation plan. As a minister and father of eight year old twin daughters, health and dental care is a top concern. Making sure that low-income children have every advantage should be a top priority of our city and right now that just isn't the case. As you know, we have terrible rates of dental problems that result in ER visits and long-term issues for children. We see these problems at rates other cities don't. Fluoridation is a simple step that will help fix a big problem.
On my Facebook page, some people have raised questions about how people who might have medical issues with fluoride - such as allergies or thyroid problems that are impacted apparently by fluoride - might be impacted. I know that the fluoride levels will be at the HHS recommended levels but I would ask that you address these other issues in your discussions so that people feel Portland's plan is safe moving forward.
Again, thank you for your leadership on this issue. Commissioner Leonard deserves special thanks. Fluoridation will be an important part of his legacy and the result will be lower rates of dental problems for Portland's children. That's a legacy to be proud of.
Rev. Chuck Currie
Ending homelessness, Currie says, will take a massive push on curbing poverty -- including not only creating jobs, but also preparing workers for those jobs -- and on making huge investments in affordable housing and building up programs for in-home support of the elderly, those with physical disabilities and those suffering from other health, mental health and addiction problems.
President Obama and GOP House Budget Chair Paul Ryan have each released budget plans. What's a faithful budget? Religious leaders are blasting Ryan's plan. That's what I talked about on KPOJ this morning. Listen in. President Obama's plan calls for investments in job creation, anti-poverty programs, and education. Ryan wants to give $3 trillion to the wealthiest while cutting trillions from domestic programs.
Action Alert from Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ
As people of faith our call is clear. The bible instructs us to act with mercy and justice and to care for our neighbors. We live out these commandments not just as individuals in our local communities, but as a society through our government. The yearly debate over the federal budget is – at its heart –a struggle for our nation’s moral conscience. This week hundreds of faith advocates will be gathering in the Nation’s Capital at Ecumenical Advocacy Days.
Together they will carry a message to Congress, asking that our national leaders defend people struggling to live in dignity by funding programs that protect vulnerable populations here and abroad.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released the GOP's budget proposal today - one that would extend massive tax breaks to millionaires and big business while cutting the safety net and reducing medical coverage for the elderly. Religious leaders - myself included - immediately blasted the proposal.
This morning I released a statement saying:
The Ryan budget leaves the least of these behind while aiding millionaires and if adopted would force faith communities that partner with government agencies to close programs that assist children, the elderly and unemployed workers living with their families in shelters. Rep. Ryan’s budget would increase poverty and suffering. That is why I join so many religious leaders across the nation in calling on Congress to reject this immoral blueprint for America’s future.
Roman Catholics, Mainline Christians, Evangelical Christians, Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans have all made statements today critical of the Ryan plan.
Father Thomas Kelly, Catholic priest from Elkhorn, WI and a constituent of Rep. Paul Ryan issued a statement saying:
“As a constituent of Congressman Ryan and a Catholic priest, I’m disappointed by his cruel budget plan and outraged that he defends it on moral grounds. Ryan is Catholic, and he knows that justice for the poor and economic fairness are core elements of our church’s social teaching. It’s shameful that he disregarded these principles in his budget.
Think Progress notes that:
The budget unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) this morning includes substantial changes to the American tax code, both for corporations and individuals. Ryan’s tax plan shrinks the number of income tax brackets from six to two, with marginal tax rates set at 10 percent and 25 percent. He repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), slices the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and repeals all of the health care taxes contained in the Affordable Care Act. It also repeals the repatriation tax on profits corporations earn overseas then bring back to the United States.
In all, those tax breaks amount to a $3 trillion giveaway to the richest Americans and corporations, according to the Tax Policy Center. Repealing the repatriation tax would add roughly $130 billion to that.
The Rev. Michael Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches’ Poverty Initiative responded:
“Rep. Ryan’s budget uses the deficit as an excuse to pursue an ideological agenda that punishes poor people who can’t find a job. If Rep. Ryan wants us to take his moralizing about the national debt seriously, he should have the courage to ask for shared sacrifice from his millionaire donors instead of kicking poor families while they’re down."
The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, Indiana noted:
When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he didn’t just mean exchanging cups of sugar with the family next door. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed that being a neighbor means reaching out to anyone, anywhere, in their need. A federal budget that slices away at funds for hungry children and their families, that abandons senior citizens, that reduces life-sustaining foreign aid, is a budget that goes against the teachings of Jesus. America can do better! The Good Samaritan saw a need, reached out to meet the need, and then enlisted the aid of others to help. Through a compassionate federal budget, we can do the same – and be a stronger nation for it!
Religious leaders will hold a press conference later this week to talk more about what a faithful budget that cares for all Americans would look like.
People of faith need to contact their members of Congress now and tell them the GOP budget proposal is immoral and that there is a better path for America. Learn more at Faithful Budget.
I'm looking forward to particpating this year in the Portland CROP Hunger Walk benefiting the important programs of Church World Service and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon - and I hope you'll join me.
The 2012 Portland CROP Hunger Walk will start and finish on SW Park Ave. and SW Market St., in front of Portland State University. The course is 2.7 miles and will take walkers along the picturesque waterfront and park blocks. Please use public transportation or car pool to site as there is very limited parking. This is an interfaith event and all are welcome.
Seventy-five percent of the funds raised will go to Church World Service's international relief and development programs. Fifteen percent will go to Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's Northeast Emergency Food Program at Luther Memorial and ten percent to Oregon Food Bank-West.
Church World Service works with partners to eradicate hunger and poverty and to promote peace and justice around the world. For example, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Islamic Society of North America (social policy partner), and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Together we reach out to neighbors in need near and far--not with a hand out, but a hand up. So, if you’re looking to help build a better world—a world where there’s enough for all—you’ve come to the right place!
Around the world, Church World Service supports sustainable grassroots development, disaster relief, and refugee assistance, and we educate and advocate on hunger-related issues. In the U.S., we help communities respond to disasters, resettle refugees, promote fair national and international policies, and provide educational resources.
Contact Ron MacKenzie, Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Please "like" the Portland CROP Hunger Walk Facebook Fan Page to keep posted regarding important dates leading up to the event and to network with participants.
For additional information visit the Portland CROP Hunger Walk homepage where you can sign-up to participate or donate directly.
President Obama spoke today about his Christian faith at the National Prayer breakfast. What made the remarks important was the way in which he linked his concerns over policy - particularly poverty - with his understanding of Christian tradition, an understanding rooted not just in the larger United Church of Christ (his tradition and one shared by other U.S. presidents) and our work from the fight against slavery to the fight against modern day poverty, but within the larger context of progressive Christianity, American pluralism and respect for the separation of church and state.
We face many important moral issues in this nation, and President Obama understands this:
...when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -– from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.
And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.
But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
When I talk about giving every American a fair shot at opportunity, it’s because I believe that when a young person can afford a college education, or someone who’s been unemployed suddenly has a chance to retrain for a job and regain that sense of dignity and pride, and contributing to the community as well as supporting their families -- that helps us all prosper.
It means maybe that research lab on the cusp of a lifesaving discovery, or the company looking for skilled workers is going to do a little bit better, and we’ll all do better as a consequence. It makes economic sense. But part of that belief comes from my faith in the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper; that as a country, we rise and fall together. I’m not an island. I’m not alone in my success. I succeed because others succeed with me.
And when I decide to stand up for foreign aid, or prevent atrocities in places like Uganda, or take on issues like human trafficking, it’s not just about strengthening alliances, or promoting democratic values, or projecting American leadership around the world, although it does all those things and it will make us safer and more secure. It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these –- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.
To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” And for others, it may reflect the Jewish belief that the highest form of charity is to do our part to help others stand on their own.
Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great -- when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.
And today, with as many challenges as we face, these are the values I believe we’re going to have to return to in the hopes that God will buttress our efforts.
There are times when I find fault with political tactics or matters of policy. This speech, however, reminded me of why I have so deeply respected Barack Obama since 2004: he is a person of deep faith who despite the political winds attempts to live out that faith even in these extreme times. His policies, shaped sometimes by the imperfect times in which we live, reflect the values he articluated today.
It is hard to imagine another politican of this age being able to deleiver a speech like this.
Mitt Romney told CNN this morning that "I'm not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there." He'll probably want to bet $10,000 to prove me wrong, but we aren't doing enough to fight poverty.
President Obama once again offered a progressive, moral vision for America during last night's State of the Union Address - a choice between an America where we're all in this together or where some people put their personal self interests ahead of the common good, a return to the policies of the past.
“….The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”
President Obama inherited the most broken economy since the Great Depression. And some want to return to the policies that brought us to that point? President Obama is correct to call for increased investments in education and our public infrastructure. We need to continue creating jobs.
Last night, in the GOP response, Gov. Mitch Daniels made the claim that President Obama is "pro-poverty." That's absurd - particularly coming from George W. Bush's budget director whose policies created the poverty crisis we face in the United States today. President Obama's stimulus program, opposed by every GOP member of Congress, kept 30 million additional Americans from falling into poverty (or deeper into poverty) during the worst part of the recession. No president in recent memory has done more on this issue.
My hope is that sometime soon President Obama will take the opportunity to speak directly to those living in poverty in America - the numbers are too high - and offer hope directly to those who struggle each day to find food and shelter, many while working. We cannot afford cuts in anti-poverty programs in the new budget. But make no mistake: President Obama's economic agenda will help reduce poverty if the GOP gets out of the way and stops playing politics with the economy.
I'm deeply proud of our president for again articulating a moral vision for the United States.
Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov
I urge you to use this State of the Union Address to speak of hope and change to the millions of Americans -- most of whom are children -- who live in poverty today. We need your voice in this important moment.
Mitt Romney - who is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million - says discussions about income inequality are "...about envy. I think it's about class warfare."
"I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like," Romney said. "But the president has made this part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it'll fail."
We ought to be talking about these issues in every venue because, as William Jennings Bryan once said, every great economic question is in reality a great moral question.
It isn't about envy. It is about homeless children and their families sleeping outdoors because of economic policies that benefit the wealthy while those Jesus would have called the "least of these" are left behind. It's about growing hunger in a land of plenty. For Christians and other people of faith, it is a matter of justice.
As the Center for American Progress notes, the increase in income inequality over the last 30 years is equivalent to a $1.1 trillion transfer from the 99% to the 1% every year.
President Obama was right when he said in Kansas last month:
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about 6 percent.
Now, this kind of inequality -- a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression -- hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars he made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. It leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
But there’s an even more fundamental issue at stake. This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people -- we tell our kids -- that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do.
Mitt Romney doesn't want to have this debate. But without it our nation will continue to falter and our nation fail unless we do and fix the economic system that once produced a strong middle class.
GOP presidential candidate and disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made it clear last week that he felt child labor laws - meant to stop children from being exploited - where, in his words, "truly stupid."
Tonight he repeated his belief that children living in poverty as young as nine should be forced into becoming school janitors - to teach them responsibility.
"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and nobody around them who works," Gingrich said today according to The LA Times. He ought to try telling that to the children of the families at the Goose Hollow Family Shelter and other shelters across the nation that house families who are homeless and include working adults.
Learning responsibility from Newt Gingrich, who committed several ethics violations while in office, is an oxymoron. But this is what is passing for "serious debate" in the GOP's nomination contest.
Gingrich has long supported economic policies that have increased poverty - with children being the hardest hit.
Kids living in poverty need strong schools, strong families and strong communities that will help lift them up and give them every advantage to succeed.
What kids don't need is a president who doesn't understand the issues, and lacks both the personal responsibility and integrity to govern.
Jesus said: "Let the little children come to me..." Gingrich seems to respond by saying: "And give them a mop to clean up after my mess."
This weekend I had the pleasure of preaching at Arlington Community United Church of Christ in the Bay Area. The Rev. Tony Clary, a seminary colleague and friend, is the pastor. My sermon dealt with the Christian church's responsibility to support the goals of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. You can watch the video below:
Slower internet connection? Hit the "HD" button to turn off the high definition and watch this video in standard definition.Occupy America: A New Great Awakening
For Christians, supporting the Occupy America protests should be clear-cut. The protesters are lifting up principles of compassion, justice and love. These principles are central to the Christian faith.
President Obama unveiled his American Jobs Act in a bold speech before a joint session of Congress last week. In short, the president offered up a moral vision of what America should be and in doing so he provided a stark contrast with the Tea Party Congress and their Ayn Rand devotees in the GOP leadership. Congress should pass the American Jobs Acts immediately and put politics aside to address the jobs crisis.
That might be wishful thinking. We all remember what U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said in the aftermath of the 2010 elections. When asked what the #1 priority of Congressional republicans was he said to deny President Obama a second term. Not to create jobs. Not to address the deficit.
On the House side, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the budget committee, has said his inspiration in crafting policy comes from Any Rand who once said: "Nobody has ever given a reason why man should be his brothers' keeper." Rand rejected a basic Biblical concept but she also strongly rejected Christianity. Ryan hands out her books as gifts.
Christian leaders have looked at GOP budget proposals and said:
Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called "the least of these." This is our calling, and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.
It is time to change course and embrace a vision of America where no one is left behind. Creating jobs now will lower the unemployment rate, reduce poverty and instill hope for the future.
In addition, the Americans Jobs Act proposed by President Obama will rehire laid off teachers - making sure young children get the support they need to learn in the classroom - and will put workers on the job fixing up crumbling schools, like the one my children attend that is nearly 75 years old and without seismic upgrades.
The American Jobs Act will also extend unemployment benefits to workers left jobless during a prolonged period of economic difficulty. We abandon these workers now and they will become the next wave of homeless families seeking shelter in facilities that are already full.
Our churches and other faith communities are overburdened by the human tidal wave of need that has been showing up since poverty began to explode in 2001 - the same time our government abandoned economic policies that reduced poverty in favor of tax cuts for the wealthiest and reductions in federal support for critical human service programs. Faith communities have opened shelters, built housing, organized volunteers, and hosted job fairs. But it is not enough.
Churches have never had resources equal to the government or equal to the task of dealing with all America's social ills. Nor should the faith community be expected to play such a role. Taking care of our neighbors is a task all Americans must share and government is the only vehicle we have that can marshal all the partners we need to meet the needs: business, labor, non-profits, students and the faith community. We need partnerships with government paying the bigger bills that create infrastructure, such as schools and affordable housing. President Obama was absolutely right when he said last week:
We have to ask ourselves, "What's the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?" Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can't afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can't afford to do both. This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices that we have to make. And I'm pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It's not even close. And it's time for us to do what's right for our future.
We have to decide who we are going to be as a people.
Will we continue to allow children to live homeless and in poverty?
Will we scrape Social Security?
Or will we be our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper and fight to make our national community a place where once again there is hope in the future and security for families?
We need the American Jobs Act now. Tell Congress.
President Obama addressed the unemployment crisis today in moral terms that once again offered a progressive and positive vision for the United States - a start contrast to the Tea Party mentality. I've just finished a conference call with senior White House officials who have offered more specific information on the president's proposed American Jobs Act.
Here's the basic outline, as offered by Think Progress:
President Obama tonight laid out a $450 billion job creation plan before a joint session of Congress, challenging lawmakers to repeatedly to “pass this jobs bill.” “Regardless of the arguments we’ve had in the past, regardless of the arguments we’ll have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country,” he said.
Obama called for a reduction in the payroll tax, investments in infrastructure, a plan to modernize up to 35,000 schools, as well as tax breaks for new hires and a plan to reform the corporate tax code that currently “stands as a monument to special interest influence in Washington.” Obama emphasized that many of these ideas have, in the past, garnered bipartisan support and he threw in some Republican favorites, such as approving pending free trade agreements.
However, despite drawing cheers from the Republicans in the crowd when he mentioned eliminating or streamlining regulations, Obama said that he would not use the economic crisis as an excuse to engage in a regulatory race to the bottom...
Many of these items are the ones anti-poverty advocates recommended to the president in advance of his speech.
The White House explains the American Jobs Act in these terms:
First, it provides a tax cut for small businesses, not big corporations, to help them hire and expand now, and provides an additional tax cut to any business that hires or increases wages. Second, it puts more people back to work, including up to 280,000 teachers laid off by state-budget cuts, first responders and veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and construction workers repairing crumbling bridges, roads and more than 35,000 public schools, with projects chosen by need and impact, not earmarks and politics. And, it expands job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of low-income youth and adults through a new Pathways Back to Work Fund that supports summer and year round jobs for youth; innovative new job training programs to connect low-income workers to jobs quickly; and successful programs to encourage employers to bring on disadvantaged workers. Third, it helps out-of-work Americans by extending unemployment benefits to help them support their families while looking for work and reforming the system with training programs that build real skills, connect to real jobs and help the long-term unemployed. It bans employers from discriminating against the unemployed when hiring, and provides a new tax credit to employers hiring workers who have been out of a job for over 6 months. Fourth, it puts more money in the pockets of working and middle class Americans by cutting in half the payroll tax that comes out of every worker's paycheck, saving families an average of $1,500 a year’ and taking executive action to remove the barriers that exist in the current federal refinancing program (HARP) to help more Americans refinance their mortgages at historically low rates, save money and stay in their homes. Last, the plan won’t add a dime to the deficit and is fully paid for through a balanced deficit reduction plan that includes closing corporate tax loopholes and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.
Asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share has been a demand of many U.S. religious leaders to Congress and so I deeply appreciated it when President Obama said tonight:
We have to ask ourselves, “What’s the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?”
Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both.
This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices that we have to make. And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It’s not even close. And it’s time for us to do what’s right for our future.
We'll hear more in the coming days. But I believe that President Obama is setting the right course.
Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov
The American Thinker - a web site that leans to the right of the Tea Party, apparently - is making waves with an article that argues that people living in poverty shouldn't be allowed to vote:
Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote?
Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians. Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery.
Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country -- which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.
Maybe we could just buy the poor people and count them as 3/5ths a person...
This piece is about as unAmerican as it gets.
National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P St NW
Washington, DC 20037
Last night our friends Scott and Janice Gratton invited us to a special fund raising dinner to learn more about the Portland Children's Relief Nursery - a critical program that operates both in St. John's and East County - providing services to young children and their families:
We provide a range of services that “wrap-around” the family to reduce parental stress and social isolation. We’re teaching parenting skills, strengthening bonds between parents and their babies, providing targeted services, reducing child behavioral problems and improving social-emotional development in very young children.
We believe that by focusing on the social and emotional well-being of the youngest, most vulnerable children, we can strengthen families. We do this at a time when we can have the greatest impact on their lives, when their children are infants through age 4. Our families get the help they need, when they need it, to overcome their difficulties and emerge stronger — as a family. A failed family becomes a burden on the community. A successful one contributes to it. Together, we are making families stronger.
It was impressive to see Portland Children's Relief Nursery firsthand and to hear how this agency is working with families that have both suffered abuse or are at risk of abuse.
We hope that you will consider supporting Portland Children's Relief Nursery as they seek to expand services during difficult economic times.
The Oregon Center for Public Policy sends along the following information:
This week Oregonians will be rallying in cities throughout the state, delivering a message to their congressional representatives: jobs, not cuts.
Below is the list of cities where rallies will take place. The accompanying links are to flyers (PDF) providing details regarding the times and locations:
Salem -- Wednesday, August 31
Bend -- Thursday, September 1
Portland -- Thursday, September 1st
These events, in coordination with the Rebuild The Dream movement, are sponsored by: Oregon Action, Jobs With Justice, Alliance for Democracy, US Uncut, Rural Organizing Project, We Are Oregon, SEIU 503, SEIU 49, Moveon.org, AFSCME, PCUN, Economic Fairness Oregon, Unite-Here Local 9, Our Oregon, Pride At Work and Basic Rights Oregon.
How we address the unemployment crisis was the topic of a letter I sent President Obama today - asking him to support the Urban Jobs Act and to support recommendations made by the Center for American Progress regarding job growth.
As the Center for American Progress notes, the GOP's jobs plan is a "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" that would hurt families across our nation.
We can and we must do better.
Today President Obama signed the debt ceiling compromise with these words:
I’ve said it before; I will say it again: We can’t balance the budget on the backs of the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of this recession. We can’t make it tougher for young people to go to college, or ask seniors to pay more for health care, or ask scientists to give up on promising medical research because we couldn’t close a tax shelter for the most fortunate among us. Everyone is going to have to chip in. It’s only fair. That’s the principle I’ll be fighting for during the next phase of this process.
And in the coming months, I’ll continue also to fight for what the American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages and faster economic growth. While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits, people across the country are asking what we can do to help the father looking for work. What are we going to do for the single mom who’s seen her hours cut back at the hospital? What are we going to do to make it easier for businesses to put up that “now hiring” sign?
For the record I called U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer - my representative - and urged him to vote for the compromise because default was simply not an option - no matter how bad the deal might have been. Rep. Blumenauer voted no.
But creating jobs in this economy just got a lot harder, as Think Progress notes:
The Economic Policy Institute, a top nonpartisan think tank, estimates that the deal struck this weekend to raise the nation’s debt limit will end up costing the economy 1.8 million jobs by 2012...
The agreement would reduce spending by at least $1 trillion over 10 years, but even the near-term cuts could shrink already sluggish GDP growth by 0.3% in 2012. According to EPI, the plan “not only erodes funding for public investments and safety-net spending, but also misses an important opportunity to address the lack of jobs.” In particular, the immediate spending cuts and the “failure to continue two key supports to the economy (the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed) could lead to roughly 1.8 million fewer jobs in 2012.”
As joblessness, poverty and homelessness continue to grow the question is this: does President Obama have a plan to move us forward as a nation? No one questions the president's values or aspirations but he quickly needs to lay out a progressive platform that he'll fight for. Where will he draw a line in the sand to fight for those principles he believes in?
There needs to be a more forceful repudiation of the Tea Party movement which rejects traditional religious understandings of justice, compassion and the social contract that has made America a great nation.
People of faith need to continue to put pressure on both parties to address poverty and homelessness. I agree with what the National Council of Churches stated at Easter time:
...the debate over the national budget has ignored the most vulnerable members of our society -- millions of the working poor, the homeless, children, and disabled persons -- while political leaders of both parties jockey for tactical advantages as if they were more interested in pursuing power and office than a balanced budget.
As we continue to hold President Obama and members of Congress in prayer, let us pray that our nation addresses the sin of poverty and that those held captive by hopelessness find freedom from despair. It will take renewed efforts from us all to build up the Beloved Community we still dream of.
This is all I can muster in response to The Heritage Foundation's new report explaining there is no real poverty in America...
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|"Poor" in America|
Thank you, Mr. Colbert.
But what a werid world we live in. They deny climate change. They deny poverty. These are they same type of people who would have fought to the death advocating the world was flat. Maybe they still are. Odd times we live in. Really odd.
Tonight President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner offered to the American people starkly differnt visions for America as together we face a looming crisis that comes with August 2nd and the end of our debt ceiling - the nation's ability to borrow.
President Obama said tonight that to deal with our nation's deficit we need a balanced approach that involves shared sacrifice - including asking millionaires to pay their fair share of taxes:
Democrats and Republicans agree on the amount of deficit reduction we need. The debate is about how it should be done. Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get. How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?
That’s not right. It’s not fair. We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country – things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.
Keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98% of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all. None. In fact, I want to extend the payroll tax cut for working families. What we’re talking about under a balanced approach is asking Americans whose incomes have gone up the most over the last decade – millionaires and billionaires – to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make. And I think these patriotic Americans are willing to pitch in. In fact, over the last few decades, they’ve pitched in every time we passed a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit. The first time a deal passed, a predecessor of mine made the case for a balanced approach by saying this:
“Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.”
Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan. But today, many Republicans in the House refuse to consider this kind of balanced approach – an approach that was pursued not only by President Reagan, but by the first President Bush, President Clinton, myself, and many Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. So we are left with a stalemate.
Speaker Boehner unveiled his latest plan today - one that could cause the greatest increase in poverty in American history - which calls for no shared sacrifice, only continued benefits for the wealthy at the expense of middle class and low-income families.
Tonight the speaker said:
The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. That is just not going to happen. You see, there is no stalemate in Congress. The House has passed a bill to raise the debt limit with bipartisan support.
What they actually passed was a highly partisan bill that couldn't even muster half a dozen democratic votes in the U.S. House. Now they want to pass the buck by voting for another bill that will cause Congress to have this entire debate again in just six months - instead of dealing with the problem now.
President Obama sounded like a statesman but Speaker Boehner sounded like another partisan pol.
Like other religious leaders, I want to make sure that any agreement reached protects the middle class and the poorest among us, especially children and elders. Over 6,000 clergy have written to President Obama with this message - I've written him personally - and I'll share that message again with White House staff this week.
I hope Americans take up President Obama's call to reach out to Congress to demand a plan to deal with the deficit that includes new revenues and also the protection of our national safety net. Make your call today, toll free at 888.907.1485. Click here for more from the Half in Ten Campaign on Protecting the American Dream.
The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released the following statement tonight:
House Speaker John Boehner’s new budget proposal would require deep cuts in the years immediately ahead in Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees, the repeal of health reform’s coverage expansions, orwholesale evisceration of basic assistance programs for vulnerable Americans.
The plan is, thus, tantamount to a form of “class warfare.” If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.
This may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. The mathematics are inexorable.
- The Boehner plan calls for large cuts in discretionary programs of $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, and it then requires additional cuts that are large enough to produce another $1.8 trillion in savings to be enacted by the end of the year as a condition for raising the debt ceiling again at that time.
- The Boehner plan contains no tax increases. The entire $1.8 trillion would come from budget cuts.
- Because the first round of cuts will hit discretionary programs hard — through austere discretionary caps that Congress will struggle to meet — discretionary cuts will largely or entirely be off the table when it comes to achieving the further $1.8 trillion in budget reductions.
- As a result, virtually all of that $1.8 trillion would come from entitlement programs. They would have to be cut more than $1.5 trillion in order to produce sufficient interest savings to achieve $1.8 trillion in total savings.
- To secure $1.5 trillion in entitlement savings over the next ten years would require draconian policy changes. Policymakers would essentially have three choices: 1) cut Social Security and Medicare benefits heavily for current retirees, something that all budget plans from both parties (including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan) have ruled out; 2) repeal the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions while retaining its measures that cut Medicare payments and raise tax revenues, even though Republicans seek to repeal many of those measures as well; or 3) eviscerate the safety net for low-income children, parents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There is no other plausible way to get $1.5 trillion in entitlement cuts in the next ten years.
- The evidence for this conclusion is abundant.
- The “Gang of Six” plan, with its very tough and controversial entitlement cuts, contains total entitlement reductions of $640 to $760 billion over the next ten years not counting Social Security, and $755 billion to $875 billion including Social Security. (That’s before netting out $300 billion in entitlement costs that the plan includes for a permanent fix to the scheduled cuts in Medicare physician payments that Congress regularly cancels; with these costs netted out, the Gang of Six entitlement savings come to $455 to $575 billion.)
- The budget deal between President Obama and Speaker Boehner that fell apart last Friday, which included cuts in Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and Medicare benefits as well as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, contained total entitlement cuts of $650 billion (under the last Obama offer) to $700 billion (under the last Boehner offer).
- The Ryan budget that the House passed in April contained no savings in Social Security over the next ten years and $279 billion in Medicare cuts.
To be sure, the House-passed Ryan budget included much larger overall entitlement cuts over the next 10 years. But that was largely because it eviscerated the safety net and repealed health reform’s coverage expansions. The Ryan plan included cuts in Medicaid and health reform of a remarkable $2.2 trillion, from severely slashing Medicaid and killing health reform’s coverage expansions. The Ryan plan also included stunning cuts of $127 billion in the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) and $126 billion in Pell Grants and other student financial assistance.
That House Republicans would likely seek to reach the Boehner budget’s $1.8 trillion target in substantial part by cutting programs for the poorest and most vulnerable Americans is given strong credence by the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill that the House recently approved. That bill would establish global spending caps and enforce them with across-the-board budget cuts —exempting Medicare and Social Security from the across-the-board cuts while subjecting programs for the poor to the across-the-board axe. This would turn a quarter century of bipartisan budget legislation on its head; starting with the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, all federal laws of the last 26 years that have set budget targets enforced by across-the-board cuts have exempted the core assistance programs for the poor from those cuts while including Medicare among programs subject to the cuts. This component of the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill strongly suggests that, especially in the face of an approaching election, House Republicans looking for entitlement cuts would heavily target means-tested programs for people of lesser means (and less political power).
In short, the Boehner plan would force policymakers to choose among cutting the incomes and health benefits of ordinary retirees, repealing the guts of health reform and leaving an estimated 34 million more Americans uninsured, and savaging the safety net for the poor. It would do so even as it shielded all tax breaks, including the many lucrative tax breaks for the wealthiest and most powerful individuals and corporations.
President Obama has said that, while we must reduce looming deficits, we must take a balanced approach. The Boehner proposal badly fails this test of basic decency. The President should veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Congress should find a fairer, more decent way to avoid a default.
Religious leaders have warned the White House and Congress that any budget agreement most project the most vunlerable Americans.
Press Release from the National Council of Churches
Washington, July 20, 2011 - In a meeting with President Obama and senior White House staff this afternoon, national Christian leaders asked the president to protect funding for programs for hungry and poor people in the ongoing budget debate and in any deal concerning the default crisis.
All agreed that we can get our fiscal house in order without doing so on the backs of those who are most vulnerable. The shared concern was to cut the deficit in a way that protects the safety net, protects the vulnerable, and maintains our investments in the future.
Christian leaders at today's meeting included representatives from the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread for the World, Sojourners, the Alliance to End Hunger, the Salvation Army, the National African American Clergy Network, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
They are part of the "Circle of Protection," a nonpartisan movement that insists budgets are moral documents and that poor and vulnerable people should be protected-not targeted-in efforts to reduce long-term deficits. White House staff in the meeting included Senior Advisory Valerie Jarrett, Director of Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes and Director of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Joshua DuBois.
Leaders have been urging policy makers to recognize that a commitment to protect vulnerable people is a moral-not partisan-concern. They will continue to talk with policy makers as well as educate other Christians and voters about the moral issues at stake in the budget.
"As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people," the leaders wrote in a joint statement. "Therefore, we join with others to form a circle of protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad."
The Circle of Protection statement has been signed by more than 60 heads of Christian denominations and religious organizations, and endorsed by 45 heads of development agencies as well as leaders of other faiths. The Circle of Protection movement has worked to uphold the bipartisan consensus that has long prevailed in deficit-reduction agreements-that programs serving poor and hungry people should be protected and exempted from any automatic cuts.
"As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world," they wrote.
National Council of Churches representatives at the meeting included the Rev. Dr. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Rev. Michael Livingston, director of the NCC's poverty initiative.
This morning The Huffington Post published the text of a letter I sent President Obama earlier this week asking that he do everything in his power to protect those living in poverty during the budget debates now under way in Congress. Click here to read the letter.
As The New York Times noted in an editorial, health care for the poorest Americans is under attack by Congressional republicans and President Obama must stand-up to them or the consequences will be grave:
The poor and disabled people who rely on Medicaid to pay their medical bills could be in grave jeopardy in this sour I’ve-got-mine political climate.
Older Americans, a potent voting bloc, have made clear that they won’t stand for serious changes in Medicare. Medicaid, however, provides health insurance for the most vulnerable, who have far less political clout.
There is no doubt that Medicaid — a joint federal-state program — has to be cut substantially in future decades to help curb federal deficits. For cash-strapped states, program cuts may be necessary right now. But in reducing spending, government needs to ensure any changes will not cause undue harm to millions.
As Medicaid currently works, the federal government sets minimum requirements for eligibility and for services that must be covered; states can expand on services and include more people. The federal government is required to pay from half to three-quarters of the cost, depending on the wealth of a state’s population. In tough economic times, Medicaid enrollments typically soar as government revenues shrink, adding budget woes.
House Republicans led by Paul Ryan want to turn Medicaid into a federal block grant program that would grow slowly and shift more costs to states and patients. Their plan would save $771 billion over a decade. Mr. Ryan also wants to repeal a big expansion of Medicaid required by the health care reforms. All told, he would cut $1.4 trillion over 10 years — roughly a third of the more than $4 trillion in projected federal spending in that period.
President Obama, who would retain the Medicaid expansion, has proposed a cut of $100 billion, less than 2.5 percent of projected federal spending, which would be much more manageable, though a lot will depend on how it is carried out. The great danger in proposing $100 billion in cuts at the start is that Republicans will take that as an opening bid that can be negotiated upward, toward the unreasonable Ryan-level cuts the House has already approved.
The best route to savings — already embodied in the reform law — is to make the health care system more efficient over all so that costs are reduced for Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers as well. Various pilot programs to reduce costs might be speeded up, and a greater effort could be made to rein in malpractice costs.
The Half in Ten Campaign - a project supported by the United Church of Christ, the Center for American Progress, and others - is calling on President Obama to protect programs for those living in poverty during budget negotiations:
In these next few weeks, urge the President to stand firm on one important principle as negotiators finalize a deficit reduction plan: protect programs for low-income families and individuals and ensure that deficit reduction does not increase poverty.Major bipartisan deficit reduction plans in recent decades have met this basic standard. In fact, all of the deficit reduction packages enacted in the 1990s not only brought down the deficit, but also reduced poverty in America. Other deficit reduction measures during this time period also excluded programs supporting low-income families from automatic budget cuts on the principle that low-income Americans should be protected.Getting our fiscal house in order need not, and should not, mean we do so in a way that increases poverty, hardship, and inequality while financing additional tax breaks for the wealthy.Call or email the President's office and ask him to oppose harmful cuts to low-income programs and stand by his support of fair increases in revenues to fight reckless cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, and other important services. You can contact the White House Comment Line today toll free at 1-888-245-0215.With critical services for our most vulnerable hanging in the balance, your voice on this issue could not be more needed or important during this time.
Click here to send a message to President Obama.
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries Action Alert
The debt ceiling sets the maximum size of the federal government debt and Congress needs to periodically raise it. Some members of Congress are refusing to support an increase in the debt limit unless huge spending cuts are also part of the "deal."
If reductions in spending follow the pattern established in the House of Representatives’ recent proposal for the federal budget, the cuts will target programs for low- and moderate-income people and essential government functions. The cuts would further harm people who are already suffering and prolong (and possibly worsen) the economic downturn.
Any conditions that are attached to an increase in the debt ceiling should target reductions in the deficit, not just cuts in government spending. Shrinking the deficit must be done through both spending cuts and tax increases on wealthy households and corporations. Tax increases as well as spending cuts must be part of any effort to reduce the deficit.
A short time ago I returned from the "Rally for A Better Oregon" at the State Capitol Building in Salem (see photos below). As I said in a statement earlier this morning, I became a co-sponsor of today's rally because my faith compels me to speak out of matters of moral importance in my capacity as a minister in the United Church of Christ. Other religious leaders and organizations also co-sponsored the event and The Rev. Ryan Lambert, a colleague of mine in the UCC, was a speaker.
Budgets are moral documents and if Oregon - as Governor Kitzhaber has proposed - makes massive cuts to human services and leaves the most vulnerable without a safety net that action reflects on us all. Oregon will be a less moral place.
We are called to see the face of God in all those we encounter. We are our brother's keeper. We are our sister's keeper. That is my message to the Governor and the members of the Legislature today. We are called to do better.
It was a great pleasure to join thousands of my fellow Oregonians at the Capitol today demanding that our leaders do better by the people of this great state.
Not so fast Paul Ryan.
Today the GOP House Budget Chairman claimed support for his budget proposals from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and said that his budget “upholds the dignity of the human person and is especially attentive to the long-term concerns of the poor.” But none of that is true.
The truth is that his budget hurts those Jesus called the "least of these" in society and that is why so many religious leaders - including Roman Catholics - have blasted his budget proposals.
But Ryan, a Roman Catholic, received today a pastoral letter from Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in response to a letter that Ryan sent that Catholic leader. Ryan claims the letter offers support for the House GOP budget - a claim that media outlets like Politico are repeating:
In the two-page letter, Dolan did not come out and expressly endorse the budget, insisting that he’s a pastor, “not a politician.”
But he praised Ryan’s attention to fiscal responsibility, the role of the family, the dignity of the person and human life and attention to the poor.
The letter also clearly disputes one of the chief rallying cries against the budget: That it would hurt the poor to benefit the rich.
“In any transition that seeks to bring new proposals to current problems in order to build a better future, care must be taken that those currently in need not be left to suffer,” Dolan wrote. “I appreciate your assurance that your budget would be attentive to such considerations and would protect those at risk in the processes and programs of such a transition. While appreciating these assurances, our duty as pastors will motivate our close attention to the manner in which they become a reality.”
That's no endorsement. In fact, the Archbishop is simply saying: we're watching and will continue and weigh in. Archbiship Dolan refers Ryan back to a letter sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to members of the U.S. House of Representatives on April 13, 2010 in which they wrote:
Access to affordable, life-affirming health care remains an urgent national priority. We are not opposed in principle to block grants, but fear that some proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid could leave more elderly and poor people without the assurance of adequate and affordable health care. Medicaid block grants may offer states more flexibility, but could leave states with inadequate resources as costs grow or more people need health care in future recessions. Converting Medicare into a voucher program could shift rising health care costs to vulnerable seniors and those who are poor without controlling these costs. We also fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing.
International assistance is an essential tool to promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poorer nations, and enhance global security. It supports a wide range of life-saving programs, including: drugs to combat diseases; assistance to poor farmers and orphans; food aid for starving people; aid to victims of natural disasters; and help to refugees fleeing for their lives. The House Resolution appears to cut the foreign operations budget by more than a third. We do not support the entire foreign operations budget, but we strongly support poverty-focused international assistance. A cut of this magnitude is likely to devastate poverty-focused efforts and the people who depend on them. We support continuing reform of foreign assistance to make it even more effective for the poorest people in the poorest places on earth.
In short, the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops oppose the heart of the GOP's budget.
The conference is even represented as an endorser of a Circle of Protection Campaign - a coalition of faith groups fighting to protect anti-poverty programs from being cut.
As Street Roots reports, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted today to adopt a resolution opposing Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's radical proposal to place an 18 month lifetime cap on benefits for families with children living in poverty (the program otherwise know as TANF). The governor's proposal comes during a state-wide budget process that has already seen tens of millions of dollars given away to corporations and the wealthiest Oregonians.
...County Chair Jeff Cogen said he wouldn’t normally criticize the budget process, but that “this is such an egregious mistake that I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to do so especially because the impact is so deep in Multnomah County,” Cogen said. “Given the depth of these cuts and the pain that it will cause on the most vulnerable members of our community, people who are barely hanging on, it just seems like the wrong call.”
Street Roots also notes that "State Rep. Tina Kotek, who represents Portland’s North and Northeast neighborhoods, has proposed reauthorizing funds to keep TANF functioning, along with the employment component, with less severe cuts, including setting the eligibility limit at 48 months." A recent article in The Oregonian implied that Kotek backed the governor's proposal and I repeated that misrepresentation of her views in a recent op-ed piece. I've since written and asked for a clarification of her proposal.
Update: Rep. Kotek e-mailed me this afternoon to say that she will not vote for a budget with the governor's proposed TANF budget cut.
I applaud Chair Cogen and the Board of Commissioners for their leadership on this issue. Faith leaders from across Oregon have also spoken out against the governor's proposal and we need more local elected leaders to do the same.
Press Release from the National Council of Churches
Washington, DC, April 27, 2011 – Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestants, African-American, and Latino Christian leaders have joined together to defend the lives and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in the current budget debate. The release of this joint statement marks the strongest and most unified Christian voice in the budget debate. Signed by more than 50 Christian leaders, it states:
“As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.”
In a press call today, heads of diverse Christian organizations said that politicians in both parties have failed to bring moral leadership to the budget debate. In the words of the Christian leaders:
“These choices are economic, political—and moral. As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected.”
Congress will reconvene Monday, May 2, after a two-week recess. The FY 2012 budget and raising the ceiling on the national debt will top its agenda. According to the Christian leaders’ statement:
“Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world.”
The leaders outlined eight principles for ethical decision-making that must be considered in a moral budget. These include protecting and improving “poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world” and ensuring that budget discussions “review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.” They also call for a focus on creating jobs since “decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.”
The leaders said that it is the “vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called ‘the least of these.’” This basic principle has provided a unifying point for Christians that gets past the partisan politics dominating Capitol Hill. Plans are being made to hold political leaders accountable for protecting programs that serve poor and vulnerable people and for using moral principles to make budget decisions.
For a full list of signatories and the complete statement, please visit www.circleofprotection.us
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's radical plan to put an 18 month lifetime limit on those receiving public assistance in the form of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) financial support is deeply immoral. Read my op-ed in The Oregonian to learn why and how children and their families will suffer.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
The GOP's budget proposals - which I've already called immoral - keep getting worse. Their latest fiscal blueprint, offered up by U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, would continue tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while cutting $4 trillion from the budget over ten years - 3/4 of which will come from programs meant to support the most vulnerable in America. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports:
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan would get about two-thirds of its more than $4 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years from programs that serve people of limited means, which violates basic principles of fairness and stands a core principle of President Obama’s fiscal commission on its head.
The plan of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who co-chaired President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, established, as a basic principle, that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or inequality or hurt the disadvantaged. The Ryan plan, which the chairman unveiled in a news conference, speech, and Wall Street Journal op-ed today, charts a different course, turning its biggest cannons on these people.
So what exactly does the GOP hope to cut while they protect tax cuts for millionaries?
$2.17 trillion in reductions from Medicaid and related health care. The plan shows Medicaid cuts of $771 billion, plus savings of $1.4 trillion from repealing the health reform law’s Medicaid expansion and its subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people purchase health insurance.
$350 billion in cuts in mandatory programs serving low-income Americans (other than Medicaid). The budget documents that Chairman Ryan issued today show that he is proposing $715 billion in cuts in mandatory programs other than Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, but do not specify how much will be cut from various programs (although they imply that cuts in the food stamp program will be large). In this analysis, we make the conservative assumption that savings from low-income mandatory programs (other than Medicaid) would be proportionate to their share of spending in this category. Thus, we derive the $350 billion figure from the fact that about half of mandatory spending other than for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security goes for programs for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. This likely substantially understates the cuts that the plan would make in low-income programs. The Ryan documents show that $380 billion in cuts would come from programs in the income security portion of the budget (function 600), and the overwhelming bulk of the mandatory spending in that category goes for low-income programs. The documents also show $126 billion in mandatory cuts in the education, training, employment, and social services portion of the budget (function 500), which, based on the discussion in those documents, would likely come mainly from cuts in the mandatory portion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students.
$400 billion in cuts in low-income discretionary programs. The Ryan budget documents show that he is proposing $1.6 trillion in cuts in non-security discretionary programs, but again do not provide details about the size of cuts to specific programs. (The documents do identify some major low-income program areas, including Pell Grants and low-income housing, as prime targets for cuts.) Here, too, we make the conservative assumption that low-income programs in this category would bear a proportionate share of the cuts. Thus, we derive the $400 billion figure from the fact that about a quarter of non-security discretionary spending goes for programs for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.
You'll continue to see the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Churches, among others, work to oppose these cuts because:
There is no greater concern among the churches of Christ than for those in this nation who live in poverty. This could hardly be otherwise because Jesus himself lived among the poor: loving them, eating and drinking with them, healing them, and speaking words of justice and assurance that God's own love for the poor is unsurpassed.
This question is what will President Obama will do? We know what we need him to do. But as we await his speech this Wednesday on the economy it appears that he is letting the GOP set the agenda. His Wednesday address needs to offer up a vision for America that is starkly different from the GOP's and inline with his historic 2008 campaign.