Thousands, including congressional members, answered a call by religious leaders to participate in a hunger fast in protest of proposed government budget cuts for programs benefiting the poor in the U.S. and abroad.
Ten days into the fast, over 36,000 participants including former Democratic Rep. Tony Hall have joined the progressive religious coalition comprised of Christian, Muslim and Jewish organizations.
Among the 28 Democrats joining the fast are California Reps. Mike Honda, Sam Farr and Barbara Lee; Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern; Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver; Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur; Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison; and Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
The participating congressmen opted for a "relay fast," where one abstains from eating for a day before passing the responsibility to another colleague. Meanwhile, religious leaders say they will fast all the way through Easter Sunday.
Calls for fasting began last month with an announcement made by anti-poverty leaders at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Those present included Jim Wallis of Sojourners; the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; and Ritu Sharma, co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide.
Wallis said on Friday that though he supports deficit reduction, he does not think that budget cuts at “the expense of the poorest people is … even moral or smart,” during a live interview on CNN.
Already, the nationwide initiative has crossed denominational lines attracting the support of whole congregations.
“The present budget debate – whether the government shuts down or not – has very real potential to produce cuts which will sharply deepen hunger and poverty for millions without having any meaningful effect on the deficit,” wrote Wes Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, in a statement representing his denomination on Friday.
“So I’m joining the hunger fast for a moral budget. I’ll pray in focused ways and forgo a meal each day.”
Meanwhile, top-level Democrats and Republicans are negotiating behind closed doors in a race against time to avoid an imminent partial government shutdown. Surrounding the debate are calls by Republican leaders to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, which has been at the forefront of the ongoing battle over abortion in the United States.
Should a government shutdown occur, more than 800,000 “nonessential federal employees will be asked to stay at home until Congress can agree on a fiscal budget.
Essential services such as law enforcement, defense, social security and air traffic control will continue. However, members of the U.S. armed forces will not receive pay, even if they were to engage in combat – potentially hurting military families.
The deadline for an agreement between both parties on Capitol Hill is midnight. Otherwise, the scheduled government shutdown will take effect over the weekend if a consensus cannot be made.