As healthcare reform negotiations remains stalled on Capitol Hill and Pres. Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tonight, religious leaders are standing up to remind Congress and the administration that the political twists and turns in Washington don’t the change the urgent needs of the millions of Americans who’ve been waiting far too long for quality, affordable healthcare.
This morning a group of 23 prominent religious leaders, including clergy, scholars, nationally known advocates and ten members of the White House Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, sent President Obama a letter stating, in part, “Strong, public leadership from you at this moment could sway leaders who are now wavering and considering putting off or scaling back reform.”
Earlier this week, an interfaith letter organized by Faithful Reform in Healthcare was sent to Members of Congress telling them that “[t]his is your moment for political courage, vision, leadership and faith.” And yesterday the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — in an interesting turn from their previous threats to oppose health reform — sent a letter urging Congress to pass reform that provides “affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all.”
It’s especially important to have voices of moral clarity when the political situation is so murky. Here’s hoping lawmakers take the faith community’s witness to heart.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Friday that the US will grant temporary protected status to Haitian immigrants who are currently awaiting deportation. This welcome announcement follows a groundswell of advocacy by, among others, faith groups such as Catholics United. The National Catholic Reporter stated that
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a letter to President Barack Obama released minutes before Napolitano’s teleconference that by offering protected status to Haitians they “would be better able to assist their families in Haiti through remittances and by working together as a community to garner other resources for their stricken homeland.”
in light of the staggering loss of life and ongoing suffering, it’s easy to overlook policy changes like this that make a concrete difference for thousands of Haitians. On a related note, the call for debt forgiveness for Haiti is gaining steam among governments, NGOs and faith groups. Given the crushing weight of Haiti’s debt (and wealthy nations’ partial responsibility for its accrual), the destruction of their infrastructure and the intense humanitarian needs in the wake of the earthquake, such measures are urgently needed.
In an op-ed today, Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary Catholic bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese, articulated the need for healthcare reform legislation to include adequate subsidies to make health coverage truly affordable for low- and middle-income families. This issue is especially important right now because Congressional leadership is still determining how strong the final bill’s affordability measures will be. Bishop Zavala’s take:
One of the most critical challenges that lawmakers have yet to adequately resolve is the obligation to ensure that health care reform truly makes coverage affordable. This responsibility takes on even greater urgency at a time when unemployment has reached its highest level in decades, a growing number of citizens are falling into poverty and social safety nets in states around the country are worn thin by deep budget cuts. On this fundamental question of protecting working families from skyrocketing health-care costs, there is a profound difference between House and Senate proposals. The House legislation requires everyone to contribute to the cost of their health coverage, but sets premiums and out-of-pocket costs at levels that lower-income families are likely to be able to afford. In contrast, the Senate offers weak protections for low-income citizens. The Senate approach would require many Americans to buy insurance that costs too much and covers too little. Providing inadequate subsidies, as the Senate does, would threaten a signature goal of health reform and undermine public support needed to pass and sustain this monumental effort.
Fortunately, as Congress moves to reconcile these bills, the House legislation provides a road map to making reform work for lower-income families.
Bishop Zavala is hardly alone in speaking up for affordability. Hundreds of grassroots leaders are converging on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a National Affordability Summit, which will feature Congressional champions for reform and people of faith from across the country. As the House and Senate bills are merged over the coming weeks, affordability advocates’ efforts are as timely as they are necessary.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently observing “National Migration Week” to lift up immigration reform as a moral issue and a political priority. On a press conference call yesterday that has generated numerousmediahitsacrossthecountry, several bishops and Catholic immigration reform advocates called for action in Washington to pass legislation this year. From the Miami Herald’s report on the call:
Stepping up the pressure on President Obama, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday urged the administration to make legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants a priority to enhance national security and improve the nation’s battered economy.
Though the Catholic Church has been in favor of immigration reform for years, the announcement of the campaign Wednesday marked the first major new effort by U.S. church leaders to demonstrate commitment to the issue which the White House has indicated may be the next major legislative priority after healthcare reform.
The campaign consists of a multitude of efforts, such as the launch of a new web site and action alerts, as well as a postcard campaign that will generate hundreds of thousands of messages to Congress. Catholic News Service also noted that
Elsewhere around the country, Catholic, interfaith and nonreligious groups small and large held immigration-related events. They ranged from press conferences, simple prayer services and educational events to a walk from Miami to Washington by four students hoping to bring attention to the situations they and others face.
Recent and ongoing issue campaigns in the faith community (such as the mobilization for healthcare reform) have included a variety of coordinated actions aimed at influencing key legislators across the country, effective media outreach that produces broadcast and print coverage, and strategic timing. The effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform is taking on these characteristics as well.
Fox & Friends, the morning Fox show, hosted a discussion on Sunday on a recent immigration poll. Joining the host were Kevin Appleby, director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Roy Beck, executive director of anti-immigration group Numbers USA, and Fr. Jonathan Morris, a regular religion contributor on Fox.
It’s good to see Fox paying attention to the role of people of faith in the immigration debate. Unfortunately, the poll in question (sponsored by anti-immigration group Center for Immigration Studies and conducted by Zogby) is fraught with flaws, as Kevin eludes to in the segment.
Public Religion Research president Robby Jones has a helpful rundown of the problems with the poll, including the fact that the poll “is not based on a scientific random sample of Americans but rather on an opt-in online panel survey.” The wording of the survey questions is also quite slanted, and problematic, in several places.
Here’s Kevin’s take:
Immigration reform is a nuanced issue, and Americans certainly hold a variety of views on pathways to citizenship, border protection, family unity, and the host of other sub-issues tied up in immigration reform. But wouldn’t be all be benefited by Fox– and othermediaoutlets– paying a little more attention to polling methodology to be sure our public dialogue is informed by accurate and valid data?