March 9, 2005
By Mark Schoeff Jr.*
(UMNS)—Church and state collided March 8 as leaders of five mainline
Protestant denominations, including a United Methodist executive,
blasted President Bush’s federal budget plan, denouncing proposed cuts
in programs for the poor and tax breaks for the wealthy.
2006 federal budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is
unjust,” the group said in a statement released at a press conference in
Washington. It criticized the White House, charging that the budget
would move 300,000 people off food stamps, cut day care for 300,000
children and reduce funding for Medicaid, the joint federal-state health
care program for low-income people, by $45 billion over the next 10
even as it reduces aid to those in poverty, this budget showers
presents on the rich,” the church leaders said. “If passed in its
current form, it would make permanent tax cuts that have bestowed nearly
three-quarters of the ‘relief’ on one-fifth of the country. Jesus makes
clear that perpetrating economic injustice is among the gravest of
sins. If passed in its current form, it would take Jesus’ teaching on
economic justice and stand it on its head.”
Winkler, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society, was one of five Protestant leaders at the briefing, held at
the National Press Club. Others were from the Episcopal Church USA,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and
United Church of Christ.
The churches are attempting to influence Congress as it begins to draft budget blueprints that will guide spending decisions.
federal budget is a moral document,” Winkler said. “It is a statement
of our national priorities—of what, and more importantly, who we as a
nation value. The budget Congress will consider this week is out of step
with our nation’s priorities, adrift from the values taught by our
feel it is important as religious leaders to enter the debate at this
point,” said the Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of
the Episcopal Church USA.
White House spokeswoman did not respond directly to the churches’
criticisms. She referred to a transcript of a Feb. 7 news briefing
conducted by James Towey, director of the White House Office of
Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
Bush today submitted a budget for 2006 that I think is compassionate,
that continues to support partnerships between faith-based and community
groups and government, so they can work together to address pressing
social problems,” Towey said then. “[I]t gives greater choices to the
poor and disadvantaged, in terms of social service providers and access
to programs, and it maintains a vital safety net for those in need.”
cited a $385 million request for five faith-based programs, such as
drug treatment, prisoner reform and maternity group homes. He also
praised increased funding for the homeless and for community health
centers in the face of “difficult budgetary times.” The Congressional
Budget Office estimates the federal deficit under Bush’s budget proposal
would be $229 billion in 2010.
Duffy, a White House spokesman, defended reductions in Medicaid at the
Feb. 7 briefing, asserting that they would come mostly from closing
loopholes while the program would continue to grow by about 7 percent.
battling over the budget, a struggle is under way between the political
parties for the hearts and minds of the faithful. Bush, a United
Methodist and self-described compassionate conservative, has gained
political strength from the religious right, causing many Democrats to
worry that their party fails to communicate with people who regularly
attend church. The Protestant leaders believe their message will
resonate across the political spectrum.
would hope that all Christians would join us in this analysis of the
budget,” Winkler said. “The church of Jesus Christ cannot be silent or
turn its head in the wake of widespread suffering that is unnecessary.
The facts are plain and they’re right there in paper as the president
has put forward a document on our national priorities to Congress. We
feel that our voice ought to be heard in the public sphere. We don’t
attempt to control the state, but we do want to speak truth to the
of that effort will start March 11, when nearly 700 members of
Protestant churches, including about 200 United Methodists, meet in
Washington for Ecumenical Advocacy Days. They plan to visit
congressional offices on March 14 and hold a rally at noon at the U.S.
Capitol. The United Methodist Building, across the street, will be a
site for “respite and regrouping,” Winkler said.
to Capitol Hill can be productive, Winkler said. Lawmakers have told
him that church groups “remind us about the big picture, about the needs
of the poor and those who are hurting,” he said.
stressed the importance of lobbying Congress members when they return
to their communities. “Back home is the most effective place to sit them
down and express our concern for the least, the last and the lost.”
is a freelance writer in the Washington D.C. area. He is also on staff
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.