Circle of Protection mobilizes to change nation's budget priorities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Christian faith leaders pledged anew to build a “circle of
protection” around vital social programs identified for deep spending cuts
under President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget, saying their action is consistent
with biblical principles.

together during a news conference at the National Press Club June 21, more
than a dozen leaders, including representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops and Catholic Charities USA, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in a unified front
to defend a broad array of domestic and international aid programs that, they argued,
sustain life.

They used
strong language in criticizing planned cuts in food and nutrition, education,
elderly services, health care, air and water protection, employment training
and more. They said they feared that people will be harmed or even die if the budget
as proposed is adopted.

is a troubling momentum at this time in Washington, D.C., for creating a serious
imbalance in overall spending priorities, one that will place those who struggle
on the margins of society, on the peripheries, in grave danger,” said
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’
Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Dewane and the others repeated a simple message: A budget is a moral document
that reflects the values and priorities of a country and they are concerned that
the priorities being eyed by Washington have gone askew.

particularly concerns the Circle of Protection group is how the budget assembled by Mick Mulvaney, director of the
Office of Management and Budget, slices $52 billion from programs
that help Americans cope with sickness, unemployment and homelessness to pay
for a corresponding increase in the Pentagon budget.

The Rev. Carlos Malave, executive
director of Christian Churches Together in the USA, charged that “the
few” at the top end of the U.S. economy “are denying the masses a future”
in the pursuit of power and riches.

here because we believe in a different world. We’re here because we believe all
can have life and life in abundance,” he said, saying a massive increase in
military spending does not uphold human dignity.

Dewane called it “scary” when the defense budget is contrasted with
cuts in social services. While he said defense spending is needed, he suggested
that some shaving there would be in order.

part of the budget (defense) is about defending killing, if you want to put it
that way,” he told Catholic News Service. “But the other (reduced
social service spending) kills also.”

has been little appetite in Congress for the stringent Trump budget. Democrats,
as expected, have voiced strong opposition to any change in spending
priorities. Republicans have described the Trump budget plan simply as a
starting point.

budget that will emerge later this summer is expected to limit the size of the cuts
while boosting military spending in some fashion. And there’s likely to be changes
in how programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program, formerly food stamps, function.

those expectations looming, the Circle of Protection umbrella group of faith
leaders is preparing to up its game to stop what these leaders see as an unfair
targeting of poor people.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of
Sojourners, an ecumenical advocacy organization, said the group wanted members of Congress to stand up for
the Christian values they hold and “speak as people of faith.” He
called for a mobilization of religious congregations to tell Congress that
programs that promote human life must become a priority for the country.

the headlines in Washington, there are moral choices we make,” Rev. Wallis
told CNS. “We want to make those moral choices clear.
For us, this is not a matter of politics or partisan loyalty.

if a legislator can say, ‘I’m hearing from my Christian constituents that we
have to form a circle of protection because people are in jeopardy?’ That
circle has to be broadened. We’re lifting that up,” he said.

Circle of Protection coalition released a two-page statement during the news briefing.
In it, the leaders stressed that the country must address the national debt,
but also called on Congress to “approve a budget that weighs the
importance of providing for critical needs and that responsibly manages the
country’s fiscal issues; but the most vulnerable should not carry the burden of
solving this challenge.”

statement cited how the recently House-passed American Health Care Act would cut more
than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade and end health insurance
under the Affordable Care Act for 23 million people, including 14 million poor
individuals. On top of that, the administration’s budget would cut another $600
billion Medicaid in the same period.

cuts would place people’s lives at risk, the statement said. Released June 22, the Senate’s health care reform bill, called Better Care Reconciliation Act, proposes similar cuts in Medicaid.

Dewane said the challenge ahead requires the Circle of Protection members
to help lawmakers in Congress see the faces behind the numbers of the federal

where you make connections if you’re looking at a budget,” he explained to
CNS. “Behind every number, there’s human faces. And that’s what I think
they’re not seeing. They’re caught up in that number, but behind it are human
faces and that’s who we need to look to.”

The leaders
acknowledged they face a tremendous challenge in advocating for America’s poor
and vulnerable because powerful special interests carry great influence in

they say they hope their message, rooted in the Bible will sway Congress to act
on behalf of vulnerable Americans.

that be a great cable news story to see legislators,” Rev. Wallis said, “who
expressed their Christian faith, to come together apart from party and say, ‘We
are together as Christians going to protect the poor. It’s very simple. It’s very
clear. It’s very unified and … it’s very biblical.”

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Editors: The
full Circle of Protection statement can be read online at

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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