Faith Leaders Weigh In Ahead of Health Summit

Faith leaders on both sides of the health care reform debate made last minute pitches in the days running up to Thursday's summit where President Obama and key congressional Republicans will try to find common ground on the issue tearing Washington apart.

An interfaith alliance composed of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist groups sponsored a full-page print ad that is running in The Hill as well as an online ad in TheHill.com calling for the Obama administration and Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform.

The ad is a copy of a letter from thousands of people of faith, organizations, and national leaders that was delivered to the White House and the offices of Members of Congress on Wednesday.

In both the letter and ad, people of faith ask the Obama administration and Congress to "complete the task at hand on behalf of the millions who are left out and left behind in our current health care system."

Over the past year, signers of the letter have participated in prayer vigils and meetings with Members of Congress in support of health care reform that offers affordable, quality coverage for all families.

Another interfaith group, composed of prominent Christian and Jewish leaders, also sent a letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders urging them to pass comprehensive reform as a matter of urgent moral priority.

Signers of the Feb. 23 letter include Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners; Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor in Orlando and a member of President Obama's faith advisory council; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; and Morna Murray, president of Catholics in Alliance.

"Human beings are suffering as a result of skyrocketing health care costs, ever-escalating premiums, and draconian choices between paying the rent and taking a sick child to the doctor," the letter reads. "This is not hyperbole or rhetoric. This is the shameful reality today for millions of American families, senior citizens and children."

But on the other side of the debate, others have used the days prior to the health summit to protest the Obama compromise plan. These Christian leaders say that though they are concerned about the millions of Americans without coverage, they cannot support health care reform that includes federal funding for elective abortion. They have called on members of Congress and the Obama administration to support a plan that protects life.

"We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine health care reform that protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all," said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter Wednesday.

The new White House compromise plan opens the door to federal funding of abortion by providing $11 billion to Community Health Centers, without any restriction on the use of the money to pay for abortion on demand, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

Dozens of pro-life organizations sent President Obama a letter on Feb. 18 urging him to respect the opinion of most Americans by embracing the House's bipartisan Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion.

The Stupak Amendment is not in the Senate version of the health care bill, nor the White House compromise plan.

Thursday's health summit is being held to find a compromise, but leaders from both political parties have expressed strong doubts on a positive outcome. Republican leaders have called for scrapping the health care bills altogether and starting over again. Democrats have firmly responded that that cannot happen and are considering using "reconciliation" to move the bill forward.

Reconciliation is a process that bypasses the Senate rule on 60 votes needed to end debate. With reconciliation, only a majority vote is needed. However, Democrats risk being labeled as partisan if they use this political strategy to advance the legislation.

C-SPAN will carry complete live coverage of the health care summit, which begins at 10 a.m. EST.