Ex-Congressman Fasts To Protest Budget Cuts

Former Congressman Tony Hall has joined dozens of religious leaders and thousands of supporters to protest budget cuts that they say will unfairly affect the poor. Hall has been fasting since March 28 and says he'll continue his diet of water and juice at least through Easter. For Hall, how the budget is cut is a moral issue, but House Speaker John Boehner says spending too much and leaving the next generation in debt is also a moral concern.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

It's hard to get heard when there are so many interests lobbying Congress against spending cuts. So, a former congressman and some religious leaders and their followers have begun to fast to help preserve funds for the hungry and the poor. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

Former Representative TONY HALL (Democrat, Ohio; Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger): I'm wearing shirts now I haven't worn in a long time.

PAM FESSLER: Meet Tony Hall. A few weeks ago, the 69-year-old might have been called a little pudgy. Today, he hikes up his pants before he sits.

Mr. HALL: I am the executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger.

FESSLER: He's also a former Democratic congressman from Ohio who made headlines in the 1990s by going on a 22-day hunger strike. He was protesting what he saw as congress's failure to address the problems of the poor. And today?

Mr. HALL: Well, I'm in my 18th day of a hunger fast. I started off as a water-only fast and now I'm doing liquids. And really what we're trying to do is raise awareness.

FESSLER: So far, he's lost about 18 pounds. But Hall says it's not so bad, especially when thousands of people around the world die each day of malnutrition and millions of Americans worry about their next meal. He worries what will happen if lawmakers accept proposed cuts in food stamps and foreign aid.

Mr. HALL: They have a moral obligation when they look at this budget not only to cut the budget but to cut it in a righteous way.

FESSLER: But what is that righteous way. House Speaker John Boehner recently said that reducing the nation's debt, unburdening future generations is also a moral obligation. Many Republicans say even programs for the poor have flab that can be trimmed. Hall thinks there's more of that in defense and Medicare.

(Soundbite of pages turning)

FESSLER: He opens his bible to the Old Testament, Isaiah 58 - his inspiration.

Mr. HALL: (Reading) Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wonder or shelter? And when you see the naked to clothe him?

FESSLER: But Hall, who spent more than 20 years in Congress, knows you can't just rest on your morals to have an impact.

Mr. HALL: Hi, I'm Tony Hall, to see the senator.

FESSLER: He's also been meeting regularly with former colleagues. Today, it's Republican Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, a good guy, says Hall. After a lengthy meeting behind closed doors, the two emerge.

Mr. HALL: See you, senator.

Senator JOHN BOOZMAN (Republican, Arkansas): Take care, John.

Mr. HALL: OK.

Mr. BOOZMAN: Appreciate you.

FESSLER: Later, Boozman says Hall is widely respected.

Mr. BOOZMAN: And so when he's concerned, you know, many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, you know, are wondering what the deal is. And so, as a result of that, I think that that helps us look really hard at the issue.

FESSLER: And indeed, a bill to keep the government running for the rest of this year dropped some safety net cuts that Hall and others had opposed.

Outside, Tony Hall is pleased. He says Boozman offered to take him to meet House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who's proposed some steep cuts in food aid.

Mr. HALL: And he said, look, I'll go over there with you and we'll sit down and talk to him. You can tell him your concerns. And he's a good guy and let's see what happens.

FESSLER: In the meantime, Hall says he'll continue to fast - at least until Easter.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.