‘What would Jesus cut?’
By Al Kamen,
In Washington, when you’re in crisis mode, when your back is to the wall, when no solution is in sight, you . . . meet.
So every interest group in Washington is meeting these days — with President Obama, House Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, House Majority Leader Cantor and House Minority Leader Pelosi, or with other groups, to influence the debt-ceiling debate.
Perhaps the most unusual of the meetings was one Obama had last week with a coalition of Christian religious leaders who urged him not to hammer the poor in trying to reduce the national debt.
It is, one participant said, “an unprecedented coalition,” including leaders from the Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ.
It’s unprecedented because “we don’t agree on much else,” said John Carr of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
The coalition focuses on those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45), which speaks to obligations to look to the less fortunate. One goal is to get lawmakers to consider “What would Jesus cut?” (Actually, to ask the question is probably to answer it.)
The religious press has covered the coalition, which is called the “Circle of Protection,” but the lamestream media generally hasn’t written much about its activities, which have included prayer vigils on the Hill and fasts, some for 27 days. The group has been working the issue hard.
“Poor people don’t have an office on K Street,” said Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals. “They don’t have lobbyists, so their voice is muted. That’s why it’s important for people of faith to step into the void.”
So how have the meetings on the Hill gone? “Most people say, ‘Yes, that’s a good point,’ ” Carey said. “We haven’t had anyone say that the goal is to take food out of hungry children’s mouths.” Well, that’s hopeful.
“A budget is a moral document,” said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group. “We’re making choices,” he added, such as whether to cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing or whether to retain a similar amount in tax deductions for mortgages on vacation homes for the wealthy.
Everyone is watching the budget battle, Wallis said, including Wall Street, the private-jet industry, the banks and so on.
“But I think God is watching this, too.”
Mightier than the budget ax
Speaking of budget matters, everyone seems to agree on the need to watch spending and cut down on frills whenever possible. But some things are essential, such as pens bearing official agency logos.
So we find the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the Treasury Department’s watchdog for “promoting integrity in the administration of internal revenue laws,” putting out a purchase order two months back for $3,410 to buy some pens “with TIGTA’s logo.” The order, from the Bureau of Public Debt, is for 4,400 pens, we’re told, which are to be distributed to tax preparers.
Remember, TIGTA’s Web site says, “If you are aware of fraud, waste, mismanagement, and abuse in the IRS programs and operations, report it to the TIGTA’s Hotline!”
Big country, long memory
Talk about bullying the little guys. China, pop. 1.3 billion, is putting the squeeze on Palau, pop. 20,000, because the island nation granted asylum to six Uighurs who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay. The Chinese consider the Uighurs, swept up in Afghanistan but cleared of wrongdoing, terrorist suspects.
Palau President Johnson Toribiong, testifying last week before a Senate committee considering aid for the country, said his government had been put under pressure from Beijing to turn the Uighurs over, according to a Radio Australia report. Toribiong said construction of a five-star Chinese-backed hotel stopped soon after the Uighurs, alleged to be members of the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement, arrived in 2009.
“I am advised that the Chinese investor, who by that time had invested several million dollars into the project, can no longer get money out of China for the project,” he said.
Toribiong said China had repeatedly told Palau’s United Nations mission it considered the Uighurs, who had been granted temporary asylum, a very serious matter for Chinese-Palauan relations.
The Chinese have said “that the issue was ‘not a legal issue but a political one’ and, ominously, that China had ‘a long memory,’ ” Toribiong said, according to the radio report.
Back to the pool
Didn’t register by the Friday deadline for that fine Office of Government Ethics conference at the excellent Orlando World Center Marriott golf and spa resort in September?
You can still pack those bags! Sign up now for a second, week-long HR conference starting Aug. 8. This VA gathering, like the one in July, is limited to 1,100 participants, so don’t delay.
The gathering is packed with about five hours of training sessions on some days — we won’t tattle if you arrive late or leave early — but there are fine evening activities, such as a “Karaoke Night” and a “Game Night,” plus a “complimentary shuttle service to downtown Disney.”
For early risers, there’s an optional “Meditation/Pilates/
Water Aerobics Class” to help you get through the sessions. Spouses, of course, can avail themselves of the “nearly 7,000 yards of championship golf,” the full-service spa and the six “tropical” pools.
Participants, in addition to airfare, get about $600 for lodging and per diem expenses during the conference. If you want to come early or stay on through the weekend, you’ll have to pay, but since you’re already there . . .
Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.