MITCH COHEN: Bush's budget lacks compassion and care

This past week, leaders of five mainstream Protestant denominations came together to speak in one voice. Standing shoulder to shoulder, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church together condemned the 2006 Federal budget proposed by President Bush as unjust by biblical standards. They couldn't be more correct.

“The 2006 Federal Budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is unjust,” they said. “It has much for the rich man and little for Lazarus,” harkening to Jesus' parable of the beggar Lazarus at the gate of an anonymous rich man. Lazarus, you'll recall, finds his reward at the side of Abraham in heaven when he dies, while the rich man burns in hell.

It's a grand and ancient tradition. The biblical prophets would be on the White House lawn, the steps of the Capitol, in the chambers of Congress, the Law in one hand, a fistful of indignation in the other, condemning the outright aggression of this administration against the poor.

Consider Medicaid. The President's budget cuts $45 billion from Medicaid; in Mississippi alone, this accounts for $679 million over the next ten years. How many thousands of Mississippi's children, poor, and elderly will go without care because of these cuts?

The current Medicaid crisis in our state has already reached critical mass; Gov. Barbour seeks to raid the health care trust fund for $200 million to cover a $268 million gap in funding, and that's just to cover Medicaid costs through the end of June. Let's strip another $60 or $70 million a year and see how that helps matters.

James Winkler of the United Methodist Church asked, “How are we as a nation – the richest nation in the world—caring for our children? …The technical resources are available to protect children from the most common diseases, to provide them with the necessities of food, shelter, clothing, and health care. What is lacking are the vision and the moral will.” Indeed.

America is the wealthiest, mightiest nation on the planet, spending billions of dollars perpetuating a foreign policy based primarily on threats of war, but when it comes to clothing the needy, sheltering the homeless, or feeding the poor, there is a sore lack of both vision and moral will coming from Washington. There is much for the rich man, and precious little for Lazarus.

The Iraq war drains $6 billion dollars a month from American coffers with no end in sight, and we are told there is no money for the poor, no money for health care, no money for education or homeland security. Difficult budgeting choices must be made, we are told by the politicians. Programs benefiting the poor will suffer unfortunate cuts. There is not much for Lazarus.

Yet somehow we are also told the president's tax cuts, benefiting the extremely wealthy, the top few percent of Americans, vastly more than anyone else, must be made permanent. The ultra-wealthy are given safety exits within the language of the bankruptcy bill while soldiers, the ill, and the elderly were singularly dismissed, with the Senate shooting down amendments aimed at easing their very specific burdens.

The administration – and senators on both sides of the aisle – who would so frequently co-opt communities of faith to further their own selfish and manipulative political goals, should never forget the fate befalling the rich man at whose gate Lazarus lay, “longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table.”

In closing, the denominational leaders pleaded with “the members of our churches, of other churches and other faiths, and all whose conscience compels them to do justice to join us in opposing this budget. And we invite them to work with us on economic policies infused with the spirit of the man who began his public ministry almost 2,000 years ago by proclaiming that God had anointed him ‘to bring good news to the poor.'” A goal all of us, regardless of faith or political affiliation, can enthusiastically support.

Mitch Cohen is a strategic communications consultant and freelance writer. He can be contacted via email at mitchcohen2k@bellsouth.net.

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