by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, www.sojo.net
For the past few weeks, thousands of you have been calling and e-mailing your members of Congress, urging them to oppose budget cuts that would hurt people living in poverty. Last Thursday, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on its budget bill. Only minutes after the House convened, the leadership called for a recess. One can only imagine the arm-twisting and deal-making that was going on behind closed doors. But as the hours went on, it became clear it wasn't working. A unified Democratic caucus and a group of moderate Republicans refused to go along. Finally, in the late afternoon, the leadership announced they did not have enough votes, pulled the bill, and adjourned for the Veterans Day weekend.
That announcement by the House leadership showed that enough political leaders were listening - and wanted to do the right thing. Many of us who were working and praying that these massive assaults on our poorest families and children would be thwarted are grateful that we were successful, at least so far.
People of faith believe the budget is a moral document. And they are teaching Congress that moral values extend beyond just those wedge issues often used to divide people. The wins over the past weeks - protecting food stamps in the Senate, reinstating prevailing wages in the Gulf, forcing the House to rethink the budget - show that a partisan and ideological agenda that hurts both poor people and the common good is being called into question. For some time now, religious leaders from across the theological and political spectrum have been standing together against poverty - and we stand ready to support political leaders who speak out for a more compassionate and just budget.
Some of those leaders last week were members like Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who said in a statement: "The poor bear an unfair burden of the proposed reductions. I'm concerned about cuts to higher-education funding, child care, child welfare and food stamps. These are simply the wrong priorities."
Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) also said in a statement, "...the proposal of significantly reducing student loans, food stamps and a host of other social programs at a time of many wrenches in the economy appears un-compelling."
I applaud leaders in the House who have championed better budget priorities all year - as well as those who are now doing some soul searching, digging down deep, and taking a stand for the less fortunate. I hope and pray that we are experiencing a turning point in how Congress will act to help "the least of these." Our health and security as a nation depends on that. This is a unique opportunity for elected leaders to prevent bad priorities from moving forward, a time of moral reckoning for our country.
The House leadership intends to try again this week to pass their budget, possibly on Friday. I urge you to continue telling your members of Congress that we will not support budget cuts that hurt poor and working families - not last week, not this week, not next week, or next year. It's time to take a stand.
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