Chase Scrooge From Capitol Hill
December 14, 2005 - 11:58am ET
Since September, newspaper headlines have been broadcasting the inner turmoil afflicting the Republican Party over spending issues. It’s very possible Congress will adjourn soon without passing a budget bill because of the controversial cuts to social programs and a provision for drilling in ANWR. Activists from liberal faith groups, unions and anti-poverty groups deserve a lot of credit for making this process a long, hard slog for the GOP. But the battle isn’t won and this week is the final leg in the race to stop Congress from slashing funding for food stamps, student loans and Medicaid. Today, groups like Sojourners, the National Women’s Law Center and the Emergency Campaign For America’s Priorities are urging people to call Congress , hold vigils or participate in an array of other events.
The latest action alert from the National Women's Law Center says: “Your calls and e-mails up to now have had an enormous impact on stalling these proposals! “ I asked Joan Entmacher of NWLC about the basis for this claim. Entmacher explained:
The evidence is that it’s the end of December and there’s still real doubt that they can get this thing done this year. And it really is up for grabs. I think that is a testament to all the mobilization that has been done. The House of Representatives had an incredibly hard time getting their budget cuts done right before Thanksgiving. ..There’s been an unprecedented outpouring on these tax and budget issues even though they’re more complex than whether to drill or not to drill in ANWR. Many groups feel that the budget is about values and whether you call it the wrong value or the wrong priorities that’s what this fight is about.
Although drilling in ANWR is where many lawmakers are focusing their opposition right now, much of the foot-dragging over passing the budget up to this point is a result of activists' success in framing the budget as a moral debate. No doubt, Republicans are making it kinda easy for them. They passed four tax bills which primarily benefit wealthy Americans and which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates will cost the nation $90 billion. Then they turn around and put on their fiscal conservative hat to push a comparatively measly$45 billion in "savings" that would cut funds to programs helping low- and moderate-income Americans. Cuts are expected in Medicaid, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and student aid.
Thanks to a fractured GOP unable to get resolution on the budget, this debate is playing out during the Christmas season, adding another bow to the quivers of those fighting cuts in social spending. Progressive religious groups are making righteous hay of the fact that Republicans are choosing spending cuts over compassion at this time of year. In a press release, Sojourners' Jim Wallis said: "‘Tis the season for compassion. We intend to pray for Members of Congress to do the right thing and vote for a budget with compassionate priorities."
And where are the conservative Christians in this debate? MIA, according to today's Washington Post . They say they have "other priorities." Bunk, says Wallis. These religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," Wallis told the Post . "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."
Whatever ultimately comes of the budget, the process has battered the GOP. And the role played by a coalition of social justice groups should be viewed as one of the left's victories in 2005. The unity of liberal groups around this one issue—opposing social spending cuts—and the simplicity of their message—the budget is immoral—were the essential ingredients of this victory.
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