At a White House meeting with Christian leaders, President Obama endorsed the goal of reducing the federal deficit without harming those most in need. The leaders represented the Circle of Protection, a diverse, non-partisan coalition that represents evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian groups.
“The President embraced the principle that as we work on deficit reduction the poor should be protected,” said National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) vice president Galen Carey, who attended the meeting.
The meeting with Obama came after several meetings between the Circle and high level White House staff. Those meetings included discussions of specific policies, but the Circle wanted to meet with the President because they wanted him to better articulate the need to protect programs for those in poverty.
The 40 minute meeting Wednesday afternoon included only a dozen of the members of the Circle. Evangelicals in attendance included the NAE’s Carey, Salvation Army national commander William Roberts, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez, and Sojourners president Jim Wallis
For Rodriguez, the timing of the meeting was “divinely ordained.” The meeting was announced on Monday. On Tuesday, the so-called “Gang of Six” in the Senate announced that there had been a breakthrough in bipartisan negotiations over the debt limit and the deficit. Their proposal would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes both spending cuts and increases in tax revenue. The President met with the Circle on Wednesday. After a discussion and a prayer, Obama left the meeting to attend meetings with congressional leaders on the budget. According to Rodriguez, the Circle expects to hold a public event with the President in the future.
During the meeting, Obama mentioned that congressional leaders are supportive of protecting the poor in the abstract. The devil is in the details, so to speak. The NAE’s Carey said one example is the Food for Peace Act (previously known as P.L. 480) programs administered by the Department of Agriculture and USAID. A reduction in these programs, said Carey, means that there would be less food for the poorest in the world.
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