Friday, October 25, 2013

Post-Shutdown Legislative Update

Grassroots call: A Path for Post-Shutdown Advocacy
Presented by the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs
Oct. 25, 2013

Legislative Update Remarks, as prepared:

Hi Everyone.  My name is Leslie Woods and I serve in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. 

I'm going to quickly speak about the budget deal Congress passed last week to open up the government and prevent default on the national debt.

Last week, after 16 days of a government shutdown and one day before potential U.S. default, Congress passed H.R. 2775, which reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling. The Senate passed the bill 81-18, and the House passed it 285-144. All of the House Democrats and 87 Republicans voted for the bill.  It was a bipartisan vote in both chambers.

So first, it's worth noting what was not in the deal. The deal did not defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The deal did not delay the Affordable Care Act. The deal did not have any spending cuts included as a condition for raising the debt ceiling. These were mostly clean extensions of government spending and a debt ceiling increase. That said, preventing a Congressionally created economic catastrophe is not exactly all that worthy of celebration; but it is important.

So, what was in the deal? The deal mostly sets up a new set of deadlines for Congress to reach the next deal. The legislation passed last week funds the government at current levels through January 15, 2014, and raises the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014, but Congress won't have to raise the debt ceiling again until March or even later because the Treasury can use extraordinary measures, as it did in this most recent situation, to buy more time. The bill also included language on income verification for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

And while not written into the legislation, the deal also created a budget conference committee to negotiate a budget for the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year and to address sequestration, which is Washington-speak for the across-the-board spending cuts we’ve been living with this year.  This Committee must report back to Congress with a budget framework by December 13.

The committee includes the following members in the House: Paul Ryan (R-WI-1), Tom Cole (R-OK-4), Tom Price (R-GA-6), Diane Black (R-TN-6), James Clyburn (D-SC-6), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8), and Nita Lowey (D-NY-17).

The Senate appointees are the entire budget committee: Murray (D-WA), Wyden (D-OR), Nelson (D-FL), Stabenow (D-MI), Sanders (I-VT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Warner (D-VA), Merkley (D-OR), Coons (D-DE), Baldwin (D-WI), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Sessions (R-AL), Grassley (R-IA), Enzi (R-WY), Crapo (R-ID), Graham (R-SC), Portman (R-OH), Toomey (R-PA), Johnson (R-WI), Ayotte (R-NH), and Wicker (R-MS).

This round of budget talks could play out in one of three ways.

First, the committee could emerge with a big, multi-trillion dollar, decade-long budget deal and succeed where all previous bipartisan commissions, groups, and committees have failed. If you think this sounds optimistic, you’re instincts are good. This would be a very heavy lift and probably the least likely outcome.

In the second scenario, the committee could come up with a smaller deal that resolves the overall funding level for fiscal year 2014 and replaces some or all of the sequester for one, or even two, years. If this happens, there are two issues to keep an eye on: the overall funding level and the makeup of any package that replaces sequestration. The overall size of the budget they agree on will determine the amount of funding available for international poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance programs, WIC, Head Start, and all the other anti-hunger and poverty discretionary programs. If the committee comes up with a plan to replace sequestration, we will be watching to see if it is a balanced fix that includes new revenues and protects important anti-poverty programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid.

Finally, the committee could emerge with no deal. At that point, Congress will have until Jan. 15 to prevent another shutdown and potentially address sequestration.

We must continue to urge members of Congress to pass a faithful budget that adequately funds programs that combat hunger and poverty, and replace sequestration with a balanced plan. Your work on this and faithfulness in creating a drumbeat demanding just and compassionate budget solutions is extremely important, especially in the next few weeks.

Thanks.  That's all I have, so I'll pass it back to Amelia.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grassroots Call: Post-Shutdown Advocacy

The Path for Post-Shutdown Advocacy
We’ve been to the brink of debt default, emerged from a government shutdown—now what?

Join us for a special call on what the government shutdown deal means for our faith advocacy moving forward.

Friday, October 25
2:00 – 3:00 p.m. EST
Conference Number: (712) 432-0393
Participant Code: 175622#

The shutdown deal explained: what’s in it and what’s not.
What does the shutdown deal mean for poor, hungry, and vulnerable Americans?
Where does the faith community go from here?
How can we use our faith advocacy to ensure the voices of struggling families are included in upcoming budget discussions?

For questions or more information, please contact Amelia Kegan:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

J. Herbert Nelson Joins Faith Leaders to Call for a Common Good Budget Deal

This morning, PC(USA) Director for Public Witness, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II, joined with interfaith and ecumenical colleagues in calling on Congress to put the common good ahead of political games.  In a Pilgrimage for Courage and the Common Good, Rev. Nelson and his colleagues gathered in the Rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, began with prayer and hymns, and then began a processional through the halls of Congress, stopping to deliver this letter at the offices of key members whose influence and good faith is crucial to ending this political standoff.  The letter begins,

J. Herbert Nelson, Michael Livingston and other faith leaders gather
"As people of faith and conscience, we urge you to place shared democratic values above short term political expediency, exercise the courage to fund our nation’s government, raise the debt limit without preconditions and get back to work on a faithful budget that serves the common good.

In a statement about the shutdown, the Rev. Nelson said,

"Too many lives are impacted by this selfish internal battle for power. The United States government has an important role in alleviating hunger and poverty, ensuring food safety and public health, investing in clinical trials and research, monitoring pollution and the safety of the environment, engaging in diplomacy and relief and development operations overseas, and employing the nation’s largest workforce.  It is time to put the federal government back to work to ensure health, wholeness, and fulfilling livelihoods, not only for federal workers, but for all of us.

Join the Rev. Nelson and his interfaith and ecumenical colleagues in calling on Congress to end this government shutdown and to raise the debt ceiling immediately.  Neither a dysfunctional government nor the default on the full faith and credit of the U.S. government will serve our democracy or the Common Good.  Rev. Nelson concluded his statement with,

"We need a government that functions based on a commitment to shared responsibility and the common good. Those who have contempt for government have no business serving as a Member of Congress.  It is contrary to the oath of office.  Join me in calling on Congress to end this shutdown and engage in more reasonable debate in which people’s wellbeing is at the center of our concern.

Presbyterians J. Herbert Nelson, Doug Grace, Michael Livingston, and Jennifer Butler


October 15, 2013
CONTACT: Michael McGovern – 202.499.4084,

50 Prominent Faith Leaders and Locked-Out Workers
March on House GOP Offices, Pray for End to Shutdown
Pilgrimage with poor workers ratchets up moral pressure as shutdown harms low-income families, seniors, and veterans.

Washington, DC – Today, over 50 prominent religious leaders joined with locked-out federal workers in a pilgrimage, marched on key House GOP offices – including Leadership – and urged an immediate end to the government shutdown. At each office, the group prayed for the Member to do what is right and vote to immediately end the shutdown with a clean and unconditional continuing resolution and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.

During the Pilgrimage, faith leaders invited moderate Republicans to join them in challenging their colleagues who are putting political agendas ahead of the common good.

An extreme faction of Congress is recklessly playing politics with the lives of countless Americans: seniors seeing “Meals on Wheels” cut, pregnant women and infants losing vital nutrition support, workers locked out of their jobs as bills pile up, veterans facing benefit cuts, and communities put in peril by the suspension of crucial environmental protection efforts.

“It’s time for irresponsible factions in Congress to stop this reckless behavior and end this shutdown immediately,” said Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby. “There is no moral justification for holding struggling families, pregnant women and seniors hostage.”

The marchers also included low-wage workers locked out of their jobs by the shutdown.

“Before the shutdown, I was struggling to support my unemployed father and little sister,” said Alex Vesquez, a contract food worker at the Smithsonian. “Now I’ve gone from low wages to no wages. Tea Party Republicans need to stop these political games and let me get back to work.”

At each office the group prayed for the Member and left a letter endorsed by religious organizations, saying  "As people of faith and conscience, we urge you to place shared democratic values above short term political expediency, exercise the courage to fund our nation’s government,  raise the debt limit without preconditions and get back to work on a faithful budget that serves the common good.”

Faith leaders had a clear moral message for the Congressmen responsible.

“Locking low-income workers out of their jobs and holding them for ransom is simply un-Christian. This inflicts needless pain on families already struggling to make ends meet,” said Rev. Michael Livingston, Policy Director at Interfaith Worker Justice. “We’re urging the members of Congress responsible for this hardship to vote now to put these workers back in their jobs.”

Simultaneously, people of faith delivered over 32,000 petitions to Congressional offices around the country calling on House Members to end the government shutdown. The petition signers are members of Faithful America — a fast-growing online community dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right and putting faith into action for social justice.

This statement, which was also signed by more than 150 clergy and theologians, sharply rebuked irresponsible elected officials for pursuing an “extreme ideological agenda at the expense of the working poor and vulnerable families” by shutting down the federal government.

Participants in the march included leaders from NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; The Salvation Army, Interfaith Worker Justice, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness, The Shalom Center, Faith in Public Life, Church World Service, American Friends Service Committee, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, Disciples Center for Public Witness (Disciples of Christ), Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ), Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Franciscan Action Network, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, The Coalition on Human Needs.


Religious Leaders Call to End Government Shutdown

Calling the Government Back to Work

Dear Member of Congress:

Religious Leaders Gather in Cannon to Deliver Letter
As people of faith and conscience, we urge you to place shared democratic values above short term political expediency, exercise the courage to fund our nation’s government,  raise the debt limit without preconditions and get back to work on a faithful budget that serves the common good.

Shuttering the federal government and propelling the United States into financial default to achieve narrow political objectives is short-sighted and self-destructive. The danger for all who value democracy – regardless of party affiliation – is apparent.  One only needs to consider this precedent being applied to other policy concerns of a minority in Congress who are powerful within their own party but unable to create legislative change within the bounds of due process.  Blocking routine but essential functions of government to extract specific policy concessions could destroy America’s democratic process.

To take such rash and destructive action in order to prevent further implementation of the Affordable Care Act – which addresses the needs of 50 million people without health insurance -- is a grave moral failure. While the ACA has its limitations, it implements a market-based model with a history of bi-partisan support. Repealing or defunding it will hurt millions of people and many small businesses. We urge all members of Congress to stand up for our democracy and reject this futile and harmful effort.

Additional damage accrues each day the government remains in partial shutdown:
  • Federal funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program may not be able to cover all benefits. Some states have already closed WIC offices, and many participants are terrified that they won’t be able to find nourishment for themselves or their infants and toddlers.
  • An estimated 19,000 impoverished children are without preschool because of the shutdown, which left more than 20 programs across 11 states without funding on the heels of devastating sequester cuts. Those previous cuts had already shut out 57,000 at-risk children who lost their Head Start slots.
  • Many low-wage workers are losing their paychecks or seeing their earnings dwindle even further. Examples include government mailroom clerks, many of whom are people with disabilities, who work for government contractors. Even if furloughed federal employees are eventually paid, many others who work for contractors have no such assurance.
  • The Administration for Children and Families, which cares for children in abusive and violent family situations, announced that certain child welfare programs will not be funded during the shutdown.
  • Our environmental wellbeing is suffering and our citizens are at risk as health inspectors, EPA inspectors and a myriad others who enforce important laws are unable to do their jobs.
  • In addition, a failure to raise the debt limit on spending that Congress has already approved will undermine our still fragile economy and harm the global economy, especially the most vulnerable.

You hold a key to doing what is right for the American people, and we pray for you to act in the best interest of our nation. Once this unnecessary and dangerous stalemate is over, we count on you to act on behalf of all of our people and enact a Faithful Budget. Stop the partisan paralysis and uphold what our Constitution refers to as the “general welfare” – the common good of all.

With hope and a belief in the ultimate goodwill and good sense of Members of Congress, we hold you in our hearts and prayers.


Am Kolel Jewish Jewish Renewal Community (Md,   DC, Va)
American Friends Service Committee
Center of Concern
Center on Conscience and War
Church of the Brethren
Church Women United
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men 
Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ)
Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Washington Office
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Moral Action of Climate
Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good  Shepherd
The National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
The Shalom Center
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Institute   Leadership Team
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society 
United Methodist Women