Reweaving the circle of protection

It is not difficult to comprehend that a father in South Sudan who needlessly dies from AIDS this year because of reduced access to treatments will leave his family in dire straits. It is not difficult to comprehend that an elderly person on a fixed income in the Midwest will sit hungry and cold in a dingy apartment next winter because of cuts to essential assistance.

For these reasons and more, over 5,000 Christian pastors and other faith leaders have written to President Barack Obama and key members of Congress who are working to reduce our national debt and annual deficits. In their pastoral letter, they ask lawmakers and the administration to form a circle of protection around effective programs that help hungry and poor people in our country and abroad.

{mosads}The pastoral letter was initiated by the Circle of Protection, an alliance of Christian leaders who have met with members of both parties and with President Obama, urging that the common good be pursued and that the budget not be balanced on the backs of hungry and poor people.

The Budget Control Act of 2011, which authorized sequestration, prudently protects some major anti-poverty programs from immediate cuts. But other programs benefiting poor and hungry people have already been reduced—and what happens to all programs next year and beyond depends on congressional action now. Until sequestration is replaced, cuts will be deeper each year.

When Congress devised sequestration, it deliberately designed such a bad policy that it would be forced to craft an intelligent alternative. However, Congress has not yet taken a meaningful vote to replace sequestration with a balanced and thoughtful plan that protects the most vulnerable, preserves economic opportunity, and restores fiscal responsibility. Allowing sequestration to be implemented—and to continue—shows an abdication of leadership, a refusal to make tough choices.

Leadership is overdue. The Circle of Protection calls on Congress and the administration to join forces to defend programs vital to hungry and poor people. Indiscriminate sequestration should be replaced with a sound fiscal plan that assures children living in poverty access to learning opportunities and safe, decent housing; that offers the poorest and sickest people in developing countries access to lifesaving drugs; that provides nutritious meals to elderly Americans who might otherwise have nothing to eat.

We need to reduce our deficits, but not at the expense of the most vulnerable among us.

Christian leaders and many others of goodwill stand ready to work with leaders of Congress and the administration who commit to reweaving a bipartisan circle of protection around programs that creates opportunity and alleviate poverty for millions of people in our country and abroad.

Saile is the director of domestic social development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and chairs the steering group of the Circle of Protection. Carey is the vice president for government relations of the National Association of Evangelicals. A copy of the pastoral letter is at

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