Minister Goes On Fast To Protest Budget Cuts
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, a controversial new biography of Malcolm X reveals startling details about the life and death of that black leader. We'll hear from one of the book's lead researchers. The author passed away just days before publication. We'll hear that conversation in just a few minutes.
Right now, though, we are going to stay with the issue at the center of a fierce political debate - the budget. Before the break we heard from two members of Congress, Joe Walsh, a Republican from Illinois and a member of the Tea Party Caucus; Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They offered their perspectives on the ongoing debate.
But the debate has not only impassioned lawmakers; faith leaders have joined the fray too. Some 20 religious leaders have launched a campaign to caution Congress against reducing the budget deficit on, quote, "the backs of poor and vulnerable people."
On March 28th, the Reverend Jim Wallis, president of the Christian social justice group Sojourners, stepped up efforts by starting a fast in protest of the proposed budget cuts. And he's with us on the line from his office in Washington, D.C. Reverend Wallis, thanks so much joining us once again.
Reverend JIM WALLIS (President, Sojourners): Hi, Michel, how are you?
MARTIN: Well, how are you? More to the point, how are you doing?
Rev. WALLIS: Oh, I'm fine. Seven days of just water and orange juice tastes really good, I'll tell you that. Couple days of juice, I'm feeling fine.
MARTIN: You feel OK. OK. Well, is there a specific cut that you are protesting with this fast? Is there a specific line item, a specific program that you feel is just beyond the pale?
Rev. WALLIS: Michel, we're saying that the framework of this budget debate is really all wrong. We just heard it again. The Republic -I was listening to your last segment there. The Republicans say we are broke and have to cut everything. The Democrats say, wait, not so much. And the attacks go back and forth and now our government shutdowns are threatened.
We're saying a budget is always a moral document, whether a family, a church, a city, a state, a nation. It reveals our choices and our choices reflect our values. And I don't think the proposed cuts being suggested reflect the values of the American people.
If I can give you an example - you know, would the American people choose cutting $8.5 billion for low-income housing or cutting $8.5 billion in mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes? That's a choice. $11.2 billion in early childhood programs for poor kids, or 11.5 billion, same amount of money, for tax cuts for millionaires' estates? It's actually $2.5 billion in home heating oil assistance that's being cut for winter, you know, winter months, or 2.5 billion for tax breaks for oil companies' offshore drilling.
See, I want people to stand up and say that they think cutting 10.4 million bed nets that keep kids from getting malaria in Africa, millions of vaccinations that protect from deadly diseases, food and education programs that counter both poverty and despair in our poorest countries, are all less important than every single line item of military spending. I don't think they would say that. It's about choices, Michel. Choices we make reflect our values.
MARTIN: Well, and to that point, though to that point, though - I think Mr. Walsh would say - obviously you don't speak for him - I think he would say that the voters made their choice in the midterm elections, where they sent people like him to Congress with the expressed intention of doing what he is now. And what would you say to that?
Rev. WALLIS: I'd say, Mr. Walsh, you and your Tea Party are not serious about spending cuts. You're not. If you were, you would go to where the real money is - military spending, huge subsidies to oil, gas, agribusiness. That's where the real money is. Don't pick on poor people. And so I have a meeting today, Catholic bishops, evangelicals - across the spectrum we're saying we're going to form a circle of protection around the programs that most impact our poorest and most vulnerable people.
Now, if you add the money up, these programs, it's not even very much money. They're cost effective, they're proven. They have been bipartisan. George Bush was a leader in many of these programs overseas. And yet they're all being threatened. I think I don't think Americans sent Mr. Walsh here to cut 10 million malaria bed nets. I don't believe that.
MARTIN: How confident are you - in fact, we only have about 20 seconds left -how confident are you that your message is being heard right now?
Rev. WALLIS: Well, teenagers in a church in Tennessee are starting a three-hour fast to - for a better budget. Thirty thousand people have joined this fast. They can all join. Sojo.net. S-O-J-O dot net.
Rev. WALLIS: People are joining all over the country. Members of Congress are starting fasting today as well.
MARTIN: All right. We'll be in touch. Reverend Jim Wallis is the founder and president of the organization Sojourners. That's a Christian group focused on social justice. His group recently launched the campaign What Would Jesus Cut, in reference to the 2011 federal budget. And as we mentioned, he's been fasting for some nine days now, part of the fast to protest proposed budget cuts. Reverend Wallis, please stay in touch with us. Take care.
Rev. WALLIS: Thank you, Michel.
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