Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and the leaders of four other mainline Christian denominations have called on Congress to defeat the fiscal year 2006 federal budget reconciliation spending reduction package due for a vote on February 1, saying it is harsher than even previously understood.
In early December, the five leaders said the version of the budget then under consideration failed to bring good news to the poor. They criticized Congress for making decisions they said "benefit the rich but are paid for by the poor and most vulnerable in our land."
The package now includes $39.7 billion in cuts over five years from poverty-reducing programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, child support enforcement, and student loans.
Griswold, along with Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Rev. John Thomas of the United Church of Christ, and James Winkler of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, sent a letter January 29 to the House of Representatives as members were returning to Washington, D.C., for the President's State of the Union address on January 31. The five leaders represent nearly 20 million Christians.
The House is expected to consider the budget bill, now known as the Conference Report to S. 1932, on February 1 with a close vote expected.
Before adjourning for the Christmas recess, the Senate and House narrowly passed budget-reconciliation bills as part of the complicated and nearly year-long budget process. Following a round-the-clock session, the House passed the bill just after 6 a.m. on December 19. The vote was 212-206 with nine Republicans joining all Democrats in opposing the bill. Many members complained that they had little time to review the 700-page bill.
For the Senate's part, vice president Dick Cheney cut short a trip to the Middle East and returned to Washington, D.C., on December 21 to cast the tie-breaking vote, 51-50, for final passage.
The House must vote again because of changes in the bill.
Opponents have used the time since that vote to educate members about the bill's contents. One member, Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT), an Episcopalian, has announced that after listening to constituents and learning the bill's full implications, he will now vote against the bill when it is considered on February 1.
The letter from the religious leaders applauds "those of you in both political parties who sought to prevent those living in the margins of society from bearing the greatest burden. We are deeply grateful that the Food Stamp Program was spared."
However, the leaders say that "the final legislation is harsher for those most vulnerable and in need than previously understood." They lay out a long list of harmful cuts and policy changes that will hurt many low and middle income Americans.
"[Y]ou now have an opportunity to redeem the image of Congress in the eyes of the nation by rejecting cuts to those who suffer in sickness, live in hunger, struggle in poverty, live in the cold and seek brighter futures through education," they write.
Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, predicted another close vote.
"The grassroots faith community has been recognized for the important role it has played throughout 2005 in raising concerns about the budget," she said. "It is a role we will continue to play in 2006 as we again seek a budget that addresses those most in need."
The full text of the January 29 letter can be found online at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3654_71303_ENG_HTM.htm.
A list of some of the most "egregious" cuts and policy changes that were included in the Conference Report to S. 1932, compiled by the Office of Government Relations, can be found at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3654_71300_ENG_HTM.htm
To see previous statements on the budget from the mainline leaders and Action Alerts from the Episcopal Public Policy Network, go to: www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn
Previous statements from the mainline leaders can be found at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_59751_ENG_HTM.htm