By Amie Parnes - 02/02/12 03:26 PM EST
President Obama used his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday to discuss the need for the country to take care of the poor and needy in society.
The comments came a day after GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney was criticized for saying he was “not concerned about the very poor.”
The president said his policies originate from a belief that “I am my brother’s keeper,” and that the country has a shared responsibility to look out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“When I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling ... it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income or young people with student loans or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone,” Obama said. “And I think to myself, if I am willing to give something up as someone who has been extraordinarily blessed and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.”
Obama said that as a Christian, those beliefs also coincide with a teaching that “to whom much is given much shall be required.”
“As a country, we rise and fall together,” he said. “I’m not an island. I’m not alone in my success. I succeed because others succeed with me. It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these, for the poor ... to answer the responsibility we’re given in proverbs to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Striking a chord of populism, as he has done in recent months, Obama told the crowd at the Washington Hilton that “faith and values” play a large role in helping to solve the nation’s “most urgent problems.”
“We can’t leave our values at the door,” he said.
“When I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it’ll make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Speaking about his own faith, Obama said Thursday that he has “fallen on [his] knees with great regularity” and that when he wakes up each morning he says a “brief prayer.”
“These moments of prayer slow us down,” he said. “They humble us.”
Romney made his comment about the poor in the context of a wider statement about how he was determined to helping the middle class. He said the poor had a safety net that includes food stamp programs, Medicaid and housing assistance.
He later said his comments had been misinterpreted, and that he had said throughout his campaign that he would be focused on the middle class.