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Lautenberg bill adopts a phrase
From church leaders’ letter to Congress

Washington, November 4, 2005 -- A phrase in a letter from 20 church leaders to members of Congress denouncing federal budget cuts would be immortalized in law if Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) had his way. 

In a letter sent to Congress October 25, church leaders said efforts to cut $50 billion in essential programs for the poor, while maintaining tax cuts for the rich, “would be a moral disaster of monumental proportion.” 

Lautenberg introduced November 3 an amendment renaming the Republican reconciliation bill on the budget, the “Moral Disaster of Monumental Proportion Reconciliation Act.” 

“The problem isn’t just that the numbers don’t add up,” Lautenberg said. “It’s that the values don’t add up. This bill would close the door of opportunity and cut critical services to the poor, the elderly, the sick, and the hungry. And it would add billions of dollars to the national debt that our grandchildren will have to repay.” 

In their letter, the church leaders noted that despite pledges to help those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress has now proposed a budget that will hurt the poor and benefit the wealthy. “The hurricanes were a natural disaster,” they wrote. “But this proposed budget reconciliation would be a moral disaster of monumental proportion – and it is one that can be avoided.” 

In addition, Lautenberg noted that the National Council of Churches warned the bill is “contrary to all the fundamental Christian values.” 

The name of the bill should be changed because “honesty is also an American value. Let’s call this bill what it is – a moral disaster,” Lautenberg said.

"This is significant because it means that Congress pays attention to what we say," said. the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, associate general secretary for Justice and Advocacy. "So often we think what we say doesn't matter but this shows that it definitely does!"

It is unlikely that the Senate will allow debate on Lautenberg’s bill, however, it has added a much needed faith perspective to the budget debate.

The text of the religious leaders letter to Congress follows: 

As leaders of America's major faith communities, we write to you at a moment of great moral urgency for our nation when hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens are at risk.   We urge you to put aside partisan politics and pass a federal budget that reflects the moral priorities of the wide majority of Americans.  We urge you to work for, not against, the common good of all of America's citizens and not just a privileged few.  

This is a grave time in our nation. We are in the midst of a tremendous social and economic crisis, thrust vividly into public view by the recent natural disasters along the Gulf Coast.  The times demand profound changes if the quality of life is to improve for millions of families. The United States budget is a reflection of who we are and what our priorities are as a nation. It is inconceivable-in the wake of the devastating impact of the recent natural disasters-that Congress would propose $50 billion in cuts for child care benefits, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Head Start, student loans, and other vital services for people in need.  In the aftermath of these disasters, such catastrophic cuts can only deepen the pain and suffering and dramatically increase the number of people living in poverty in this nation.  

We watched as members of Congress vowed to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. We heard our representatives promise to make helping those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita a national priority. Yet despite those pledges, members of Congress now stand ready to cut $50 billion in essential programs that help those in need, while maintaining excessive tax cuts that help only the wealthy. The hurricanes were a natural disaster. But this proposed budget reconciliation would be a moral disaster of monumental proportion-and it is one that can be avoided.  

The role of government is to protect its people and work for the common good. This is not the time for the budget reconciliation process to create greater hardships for those who are already experiencing great suffering.  To do so is not only unjust; it is a sin.  It violates all the fundamental Christian principles of loving thy neighbor, caring for the poor, and showing mercy. As religious leaders, this violation is unacceptable to us.   How is it that we show mercy for oil millionaires and not hurricane survivors?   We urge you to change this destructive course of action for the sake of our nation and for generations to come. 

The outrage  expressed by Americans across the country to the images of injustice following Hurricane Katrina-and the subsequent outpouring of generosity from these same citizens-is a  message from the grassroots that our government's priorities and budget  must reflect American values by helping those most in need at their time of need.  Please call a halt to budget reconciliation negotiations that are detrimental and direct your attention to healing rather than harming our society.  

Respectfully submitted, 

Signed (as of October 19, 2005) 

Bishop Thomas Hoyt, Jr.
National Council of Churches USA 

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar
National Council of Churches USA 

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Alliance of Baptists 

His Grace Bishop Vicken Aykazian
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America 

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

Friend Retha McCutchen
Friends United Meeting 

Friend Thomas H. Jeavons
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends 

His Eminence Bishop Dimitrios
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 

Rev. Michael E. Livingston
International Council of Community Churches 

His Grace Metropolitan Zachariah Nicholovos
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church 

The Rev. David L. Wickmann
Moravian Church in America 

Rev. William Shaw
National Baptist Convention USA 

Dr. Melvin Wade
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America

The Most Reverend Robert M. Nemkovich
Polish National Catholic Church of America 

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 

The Rev. Dr. Major L. Jemison
Progressive National Baptist Convention 

Rev. Tyrone Pitts
Progressive National Baptist Convention 

Ms. Christine Laintner
Swedenborgian Church 

The Rev. John H. Thomas
United Church of Christ 

Mr. James Winkler
General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church 

Click here to download a copy of the Lautenberg bill. 

Contact NCC News: Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350; Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252.


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