House lambasted for By Robert Marus
cutting benefits for the poor
ABP Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (ABP)—A diverse group of religious leaders lambasted the House of Representatives for its narrow passage of a deficit-cutting bill that makes many of its cuts in programs that benefit poor people.
The House passed the measure on a 217-215 vote after some moderate Republicans were persuaded to support the bill. The vote already had been postponed by Republican leaders because of lack of support for some of its provisions, which included billions of cuts to programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and student loans.
The package was designed to begin making a dent in the federal deficit, which has been driven up by the cost of the Iraq war, recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, coupled with a series of deep tax cuts. Many liberals and moderates have criticized the cuts because they have been heavily beneficial to the wealthiest Americans.
Savings with the cuts are estimated at around $50 billion over the next five years. That would represent less than half of one percent of the $14.3 trillion in federal spending planned for the same period.
House leaders also plan to propose a further tax-cut package—estimated at $70 billion.
A wide coalition of moderate and conservative religious leaders decried the coupling of service cuts and tax cuts as anti-biblical.
In his statement on the cuts, Jim Wallis quoted a passage from the book of Isaiah regarding legislators failing to do justice to the poor.
“It is a moral disgrace to take food from the mouths of hungry children to increase the luxuries of those feasting at a table overflowing with plenty,” said Wallis, the progressive evangelical who founded the Call to Renewal anti-poverty movement. “This is not what America is about, not what the season of Thanksgiving is about, not what loving our neighbor is about, and not what family values are about.”
He echoed words spoken by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, who attacked the conservative Republicans who pushed the program cuts while simultaneously pushing the tax cuts.
“Republicans give new meaning to the words, ‘suffer little children,’” she said on the House floor, alluding to the gospel passages where Jesus asks his disciples to bring children to him. “The Republicans are taking food out of the mouths of children to give tax cuts to America’s wealthiest. This is not a statement of America’s values.”
All House Democrats voted against the bill, and were joined by 14 Republicans. About 15 other moderate Republicans had expressed strong reservations about the bill, but were convinced to support it by last-minute deal making.
Republicans who supported the bill said the cuts were necessary to begin balancing the budget—ultimately ensuring a better future for all Americans.
“We will continue to fund our priorities in a fiscally responsible way and ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely—or not spent at all,” President Bush said in supporting the House vote. “I urge the House and Senate to reach agreement promptly on a spending-reduction package that I can sign into law this year.”
Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), one of the moderate Republicans who ended up voting for the bill, said his vote was driven by a concern for the deficit.
“I voted for this legislation because I am deeply concerned about the record deficit and debt our country faces,” he said. “Budget reconciliation is one of the few tools Congress has to drive reform of entitlement programs. The savings targets in the budget are simply a way to stimulate this process; it’s the fundamental reforms themselves that really count. Without reform or restraint, our true priorities will suffer: education, veterans’ benefits, health care, homeland security and more.”
Nonetheless, Castle added, “the choices made in this bill are not the choices I would have made.”
The House version of the bill must be reconciled with a much more modest version already passed in the Senate. That version includes smaller cuts to programs for the poor.