Faith leaders ask Congress to pass Biden agenda to 'lift up those pushed to the margins'


Lawmakers and faith leaders spoke of the religious grounds for eradicating child poverty, expanding health care coverage, and addressing the climate crisis.

A diverse coalition of faith leaders flocked to Capitol Hill Wednesday for a day-long vigil to demand President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda be passed, as it encounters significant roadblocks in its home stretch of negotiations.

Invoking doctrine and scripture, representatives from groups including Bread for the World, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, Interfaith Power & Light, and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Justice stood alongside lawmakers to make a religious appeal for the bill's priorities: eradicating child poverty, expanding health care coverage, and addressing the climate crisis.

Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, called on members of Congress to support human "dignity" by passing the wide-ranging spending plan.

"As people of faith, we believe in the dignity of every human being," Katz said. "We believe that everyone, everyone deserves to live and thrive, not merely survive. Jewish tradition teaches us that all human life is precious and sacred. As a society, it is our responsibility to lift up those pushed to the margins."

The Rev. Jen Butler, CEO of the group Faith in Public Life, made an impassioned appeal for the bill's passage, arguing for increased government spending on programs that benefit the poor.

"We follow a God who enters human history to free slaves in Egypt, and a God who takes the side of the least of these," Butler said. "God does not follow a trickle-down theory of economics, God follows a trickle-up theory of economics, and that is what we need today."

Religious leaders delivered sermon-like addresses in support of Democrats' "human infrastructure" spending bill, tying religious traditions of social justice and uplifting the poor to the plan's policy implications.

"The people in the building behind me have long prioritized infrastructure, such as fixing our roads and bridges," Katz said. "But we cannot ignore that child care is a vital part of infrastructure too. The human provisions in Build Back Better agenda are equally as essential to rebuilding our economy as revitalizing the streets we drive on every day."

Democratic members of Congress also spoke at the faith leaders' vigil. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama called for the passage of affordable health care for all Americans.

"It's not just an imperative — it's a moral imperative," Sewell told the crowd.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke about the urgent need to address climate change, saying, "We have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of [the earth]. ... We have a moral obligation to our children to pass the planet on in a responsible way."

Build Back Better, Democrats' proposed spending package, would invest billions in the fight against climate change, paid leave, free preschool, affordable health care, and child care.

If passed, the sweeping plan would have a huge impact on the welfare of working Americans. It could single-handedly cut child poverty in half, according to a 2021 analysis from Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy.

The plan would also expand Medicare to cover vision, hearing, and dental health care.  It would also represent the United States' most aggressive action to confront the ongoing climate crisis since rejoining the Paris climate agreement shortly after Biden assumed office.

Because Republicans remain in firm opposition to the bill, Democrats must unite all 50 members of their caucus behind the plan in order to pass it through the fast-track process of budget reconciliation. But two centrist Democrats currently stand in the way of the bill's passage: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona.

Democratic leaders are reportedly close to a compromise version of the bill that would do away with signature proposals like a clean electricity program to bolster the nation's wind, solar, and nuclear energy sources and a provision to make community college tuition-free.

The lawmakers are hopeful that a deal between the party's warring factions of moderates and progressives could be brokered as soon as this week.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.