Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Should Protect Programs for the Poor, Religious Leaders Say

As President Barack Obama and members of Congress negotiate a solution to the pending "fiscal cliff," they should protect programs for the poor, argued the Circle of Protection, an association of religious leaders, in an open letter released Tuesday.

"As we do all we can to help families and individuals living in poverty, we need our elected leaders in Washington to do the same. Our country faces many long-term fiscal challenges and must act now to grow the economy, create jobs, and begin reducing our deficits. These are significant challenges that will require sacrifices from many, but we cannot solve them on the backs of the poor," the letter states.

The fiscal cliff is a set of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will go into effect next year unless Obama and Congress agree to changes. The Congressional Budget Office has warned that the fiscal cliff will likely cause a recession, but preventing the fiscal cliff without replacing it with long-term deficit reduction would cause even greater problems in the future because the nation's debt, now over $16 trillion, will become unsustainable.

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As Congress and Obama debate what to do about the fiscal cliff, the Circle of Protection is asking them to maintain effective programs for the poor. In particular, the letter mentions Medicaid (health insurance for the poor), SNAP (sometimes called "food stamps"), and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a transfer payment through the tax code to poor people. The letter also states that doing nothing about the fiscal cliff is "morally unacceptable."

In a Tuesday conference call with reporters to introduce the letter, Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, said the Bible supports the view that the government should care for the poor.

"The biblical view of government, right out of Romans 13, says that government is responsible for protecting the common good and the poor. There is a role for government, biblically. So those who say, 'there is no role for government,' that's not a biblical position. It's a political one, but not a biblical one," Wallis stated.

Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, encouraged Christians to write a letter to their representatives in Congress during the holiday season.

"We encourage Christians to take time, as they prepare holiday baskets, visit nursing homes, and volunteer at shelters and rescue missions, to take five minutes to write a simple letter to their representative and senators, assuring them of their prayers, and asking them to maintain a circle of protection around poor and hungry people this Christmas and throughout the year," Carey said.

Thirty-eight religious leaders signed the letter, included National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Bread for the World President David Beckmann, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good President Richard Cizik, and Christian author and speaker Brian McLaren. Two senior editorial advisers for The Christian Post, Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland -- A Church Distributed, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, are also among the signers.

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