Spencer Bachus: True leadership

One day, driving back to Alabama from Washington, Rep. Spencer Bachus and his wife Linda made an unscheduled pause in their trip to pray for wisdom and guidance. At the time, Mr. Bachus was a senior Republican in line to eventually become the chairman of a powerful committee overseeing the financial sector and international monetary policy. He was discerning whether he should promote a plan to relieve debt in poor countries so children could go to school and see doctors. Upon reflection, Mr. Bachus determined that whatever the personal political consequences might be of moving forward on such a non-traditional cause as debt relief, the imperative was to do what was right.

True leaders possess key attributes. They understand their own strengths and how to leverage the strengths of their team. Perhaps most importantly, they are willing to make sacrifices for the public good and listen to their family and the Creator for wisdom.

{mosads}When it comes to the U.S. Congress, few have exhibited those qualities more than Spencer Bachus. Mr. Bachus, who served in the House for more than 20 years, established a reputation as a respected Republican leader who bridged divides. His insight and integrity proved to be invaluable during some of our nation’s toughest challenges and greatest successes. 

At the U.S. Capitol recently, the faith-based anti-poverty coalition Jubilee USA was honored to celebrate House Financial Services Committee Chairman Emeritus Bachus as a “Jubilee Champion” for his long-standing commitment to promoting economic opportunity and alleviating poverty in the world’s poorest nations. Jubilee USA Network, a coalition whose founders and members include more than 650 faith communities, has worked closely with Mr. Bachus on economic reforms to protect vulnerable people.

In 1999, many of the world’s poorest countries were saddled with unpayable debts to financial institutions and wealthier nations. Some were spending more money paying back debts incurred by former dictators than on the health and education of their own people. Drawing on the Biblical practice of Jubilee, people of faith all over the world called to forgive these debts if the funds were then used for social betterment. Religious groups across the United States advocated for debt relief.

Inspired by faith-based advocates in Birmingham and with the support of his wife Linda, Spencer Bachus become a champion for the cause on Capitol Hill. As a leading member on an influential House committee, he worked tirelessly to convince his Republican colleagues and the Clinton Administration to approve a debt relief bill that became a model for worldwide initiatives. The legislation included significant measures designed to reduce graft, corruption, and waste. In a passionate speech to his colleagues, Bachus said, “We have the responsibility, we have the obligation, and we have the direction as to what is the right thing to do.” His argument carried the day.

Debt relief has enabled countries to invest in schools, health care and other anti-poverty initiatives. The rock star Bono stated, “As a result of debt relief there are millions of children that are attending schools today, there are millions of children that receive vaccinations.”  Because of Bachus’ work on debt relief, more than 50 million kids went to school in Africa and life expectancy increased in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the 9/11 Commission report noted, offering opportunity and hope to societies can make the siren call of extremism less attractive, directly affecting U.S. security here at home.

Rep. Bachus showed legislative skill and personal courage in promoting these life-changing and life-saving advancements.

Mr. Bachus has led on many other issues, from protecting the vulnerable from predatory “vulture” funds to providing wise and experienced judgment during the 2008 financial crisis that threatened the foundations of the U.S. economy. As the highest-ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Bachus authored language that permitted emergency, short-term capital assistance to stabilize the faltering banking system in exchange for unprecedented taxpayer protections including warrants and dividends. This approach, ultimately adopted by the Treasury Department over an original plan to purchase “toxic assets” from banks, worked to stabilize the financial system, returned a profit in the billions to taxpayers and helped put a brake on an economic freefall that could have resulted in an even deeper recession or the misery of a depression.

Washington receives its fair share of criticism for not working. But substantive and important things can get done with the right leadership. In Congress, Spencer Bachus repeatedly demonstrated leadership by striving to find solutions to difficult problems. It is why Jubilee USA and Bread for the World are proud to have recognized his accomplishments and grateful for his willingness to sacrifice to achieve the public good and listen to the Creator for wisdom.

Eric LeCompte is the executive director of Jubilee USA and David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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