As a Congressional super committee meets to put together a plan to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit in the next decade, a coalition of dozens of religious voices sent a letter to members of the committee on Tuesday, urging them to consider increasing taxes on wealthy Americans.
The letter, addressed to Republican committee members Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.) was signed by 75 clergy and church representatives from states and districts the officials represent.
"You have a moral responsibility to work in a bipartisan manner to restore our nation’s long-term fiscal health in a way that does not worsen the immediate economic struggles of American families. As pastors and people of faith, we pray that you will give special consideration to programs that protect the American people from poverty, hunger and economic insecurity," read the letter.
It continued, "You have all endorsed a 'Taxpayer Protection Pledge' championed by Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist, which prohibits you from supporting revenue increases even when this rigid allegiance to ideology conflicts with fiscal responsibility and economic fairness. We believe this pledge to your political ally conflicts with a balanced, practical approach to deficit reduction. You are now faced with a politically difficult but morally clear choice. Do you consider the pledge you made to a Washington lobbyist more sacred than the pledge you swore on the Bible when you took office?"
The Congressional committee is made up of six Democrats and six Republicans. All the Republicans on the committee have signed the tax pledge the clergy's letter condemns, as have the almost all Republicans in Congress.
"Everyday, I see people that are suffering as a result of this economic recession. The people I see are not your typical inner-city homeless -- they are middle class people that have been punched in the gut," said the Rev. Cheri Holdridge, pastor of The Village Church in Toledo, Ohio. The United Church of Christ/United Methodist congregation's pastor joined with a handful of the letter's signees on a conference call Tuesday. "We have to cut spending and get creative in how to raise revenue... When I learned that half the members of the super committee have already signed a pledge refusing to vote for any kind of tax increase, I was simply flabbergasted," she said.
"We see firsthand week after week, month after month, men and women and children who are hungry and in need of help. Many of the people that come to us [at church] are the working poor," said Rev. Dan Scheid, rector at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Benton Harbor, Mich. "We ask for shared sacrifice for finding this money to ask fellow Americans who have been abundantly blessed with high incomes."
Also on the call, organized by Washington, D.C.-based Faith in Public Life, was the Rev. Stephen Wayles, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix, Ariz. Much like other pastors, he said his church has had to stretch its resources to help congregants who have lost jobs and seen their homes foreclose in recent years.
"I have been a pastor for 31 years. I don't remember having as many church members uninsured, unemployed, underemployed as they are now," said Wayles. "We need jobs programs, not cuts in services... We need the wealthy among us to pay their fair share. The people who have benefited the most in the last four years must pay their fair share in taxes. ... We all answer to a higher authority than the Tea Party."
While the pastors speaking out on Tuesday support raising taxes on the wealthy as part of what they consider a Biblically-mandated "shared sacrifice," a poll released Tuesday showed that religious views on solutions to the nation's economic difficulties vary. The Baylor University survey found that Americans who believe God has a plan for their lives are more likely to think the government "does too much," more likely to oppose unemployment benefits for healthy people and more likely to believe in the "American dream" that anything is possible for those who work hard.
Those views parallel those of conservative religious groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, members of which have spoken out in the past against increased taxation or federally-funded social programs playing a significant role in solving issues such as the government's high deficit or unemployment.