Yesterday, at the National Press Club, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele answered (and asked) some questions about health care reform.
During the discussion, Steele was asked if he thought it was “morally acceptable for 30-40 million Americans to be without health insurance” and he answered “I don’t know if that’s a consideration for politicians versus a pastor”
Most of us in the faith community think it’s a question for pastors and politicians…and everyone else.
People of faith from across ideological lines have joined together to say it is morally unacceptable for so many Americans to be unable to access quality health care and the remedy to this problem will certainly involve the government working together with communities and congregations.
The multitude of robustadvocacyefforts pushing for comprehensive health care reform are a testament to the depth of the faith community’s commitment to this issue.
In any event, should Mr. Steele wish to learn more about what pastors think about health care reform, we’d be happy to connect him with some clergy we know are eager to talk about our shared moral responsibility to reform the health care system.
House Democrats unveiled health care reform legislation yesterday, and both Pres. Obama and Rep. Henry Waxman have called on Congress to pass a bill before summer recess, even suggesting that the August break be postponed if necessary. (Bill text here.)
While watching interest groups’ strategies unfold, I’ve come to the conclusion that health care reform will be as effective as we demand or as hollow as we allow it to be. There’s a great onus on advocates for reform to continually pressure their Members of Congress to make sure we can all access and afford quality healthcare. This of course extends to local faith leaders who are already making a difference.
Nate Silver had a post yesterday that shone a light on a particular slice of Congress: Democrats (including numerous members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition) from districts that voted for McCain and have higher-than-average percentages of uninsured people. In other words, legislators who must balance major human needs with ideological and political demands. For example, 24% of my former Congressman Marion Berry’s (Blue Dog, AR) constituents are uninsured, premiums rose almost six times as much as income from 2000–2007 statewide, so the insured are squeezed as well. For many Members of Congress, supporting robust health care reform involves political risk, of which they are no doubt aware. But their constituents need health care reform, not to mention the fact that meaningful reform, with a strong public option, seems like not only a moral choice, but also a fiscally prudent one.
When it comes to life-and-death matters such as health care, political calculations shouldn’t be the basis of decision. That’s why it’s so important that faith leaders to keep reminding their Members of Congress (and their religious communities) of the moral dimensions of Congress’s critical decisions on health care reform.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that health insurers have hired 350 former government officials as lobbyists and are spending $1.4 million per day to ensure that health care reform doesn’t hurt their bottom line. (One can’t help but wonder how much medical treatment they could fund with that amount of money, but that’s another post entirely.) Simply put, this is a gigantic push the likes of which you don’t see very often.
So it’s a good thing faith leaders are working so hard to pass reform that fixes our broken system and makes quality coverage affordable for all Americans. In addition to the radio ads Faithful America, FPL, PICO, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good sponsored over the Fourth of July weekend, an interfaith group of almost 30 national religious leaders gathered on Capitol Hill today for a Faith Leader Summit on Health Care, which included meetings with Members of Congress and White House staff. And last week, a group of 500 faith-based activists from across the country to lobby their Representatives and Senators. These events come on the heels of an active spring for religious advocacy on health care. These efforts and many many more are necessary in the next couple of months. The moral message that all families deserve quality, affordable health care can prevail over powerful lobbyists, but we can’t take it for granted.
Starting today, a coalition of local religious leaders and national faith groups including FPL, PICO, Faithful America, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is running Christian radio ads in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska and North Carolina calling on specific Senators to support reform that extends quality, affordable health care choices to all Americans. Timed to coincide with the Independence Day Recess, the ads ground the call for reform in Scripture (Isaiah) and call for action in a spirit of love and courage. (Ad scripts and audio are available here.)
The ads are a key part of a greater pro-reform effort that includes meetings with legislators, such as a public meeting 400 Denver-area faith leaders are having with Sen. Bennett this week; distribution of congregational resources, such as a pastor’s guide for talking about health care that will reach over 4,000 congregations; and a sign-on letter endorsed by over 600 clergy who have agreed to engage their congregations in the health care reform debate.
For me, the most inspiring part of this effort has been working with pastors in places like Nebraska, where premiums have increased 3 times as fast as income in recent years and Colorado, where the recession has hit hard and premiums went up nearly 5 times as fast as income from 2000-2007. These leaders see firsthand in their congregations and their service to their communities that our broken system has severe human consequences. They articulate the moral dimension of health care reform uniquely and and powerfully. It’s humbling to listen to their witness, rooted in faith, service, courage and love. I hope the senators who hold health care reform in their hands will be similarly moved.
On Lou Dobbs this week, Tony Perkins from Family Research Council (FRC) continued to distort the discussion about health care reform. In response, Jim Wallis of Sojourners set the record straight, highlighting how health care is indeed a moral issue, especially given that millions of working families are not covered.
Perkins stated he was “fearful of what will happen if we go to a one size government health care program.” Wallis was quick to point out that such a program is not being proposed by Congress or the President. The President has always been clear about his parameters for reform, one of which is ensuring that all Americans can maintain their current health insurance if they wish. Preserving choice is a vital part of the proposed legislation, and yet Perkins continues to repeat the erroneous Republican talking point about so-called socialized health care. We can’t say we’re surprised… this isn’t the first time he’s confused the facts in the health care debate
Perkins understands that our health care system isn’t working, but he continues to use scare tactics and false information to derail attempts to make health care affordable and accessible. Last month we helped launch a health care campaign on the airwaves, calling for quality health care choices that are affordable for every American family. FRC responded by attacking our nonpartisan and faith-based campaign as being “an anti-faith, anti-family anti-freedom agenda.” We beg to differ– an agenda to make sure all Americans can get the care they need is both pro-faith and pro-family, especially when you consider that thousands of families are struggling to cope without adequate health insurance.
This video clip shows that groups like FRC are going to continue to fight meaningful health care reform tooth and nail. We have a long fight ahead. As efforts for reform continue through the summer, chip in to help us fund the next round of ads calling for reform that makes quality health care truly affordable for all families.