A letter coordinated by Faith in Public Life says it is hypocritical for lawmakers to claim they support family values and then eliminate programs that benefit children and the working poor.

By Bob Allen

More than 60 Christian leaders and theologians – including several Baptists – signed an open letter Aug. 1 criticizing a proposal backed by House Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, while allowing enhancements to middle-class tax credits added in 2009 by President Obama to expire.

The letter, coordinated by Faith in Public Life, came as the GOP-controlled House prepared to vote on a competing plan to a Senate bill that would renew tax cuts due to expire Dec. 31 on all but the wealthiest taxpayers. The House plan keeps those cuts in place but reduces benefits for the middle and lower classes.

The faith leaders said how Congress votes on the tax measures “will have a profound impact on working families and the poor.”

They specifically opposed any plan that fails to extend improvements in the Child Tax Credit, which reduces the federal income tax on families by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under 17, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families.

“These tax credits help families meet basic needs, reduce poverty, and remove barriers to work,” the letter said. “It is hypocritical for lawmakers who talk about family values to abandon improvements in these effective, family supporting programs.”

The faith leaders said reducing those credits would jeopardize the economic security of more than 15 million families and 36 million children. “This is simply unconscionable,” they wrote.

They also pointed out that some leaders in Washington who oppose extending those tax credits at the same time support extending tax cuts for the wealthiest few. The Senate plan keeps all tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, while the richest 2 percent would pay more than they do now but less than if Congress does nothing.

“Favoring the wealthiest 2 percent over working families is irresponsible public policy that fails a basic moral test,” the leaders said.

The faith leaders acknowledged they are not economists or tax experts, but they said the debate is more than about competing fiscal theories. “Ultimately, these choices reflect our values and reveal our priorities as a nation,” they said. “We urge members of Congress to put families and workers before ideological agendas that favor the powerful.”

Baptist signers included Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University; Paula Clayton-Dempsey, minister for partnership relations with the Alliance of Baptists; Michael Harrison, president of the Ohio Baptist State Convention; Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; and Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and a member of First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., called the Republican budget “an immoral document” because of how its priorities and principles apply differently to the rich and poor.

“I certainly don’t believe that all our Republican lawmakers came to Washington to hurt poor people, but it’s time for some of them to challenge the dominant forces in their party and face the consequences of such indefensible choices,” Wallis said in a press release.