WASHINGTON -- As Congress' negotiations over a resolution to keep the government funded devolve, exasperated religious leaders on Monday said the deep federal budgets cuts being proposed are immoral. In response, they're going on a hunger strike.
"The budget is a moral document, and it's very important," said former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), the head of the Alliance to End Hunger. "I think a country is judged on how it treats the poorest of its citizens. We live in a country that's been very blessed, and if we can't take care of our neediest citizens, then I think that doesn't speak well of us."
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, the heads of five anti-hunger organizations -- including Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Rev. David Beckmann of Bread for the World, and Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide -- announced open-ended fasts in protest of proposed cuts to domestic and international food programs contained in the six-month spending bill that has been passed by the House.
Hall noted, in an interview with The Huffington Post on Monday, that there are 50 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide who do not have enough to eat. Everyday, 25,000 people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases worldwide, he said, adding that not enough has been done to make people aware of those facts.
It's not the first time he's gone on a hunger strike to call attention to the issue. While in Congress, Hall went on a 22-day fast to protest cuts to food programs in the 1993 budget.
Now, almost twenty years later, he says the stakes are even higher.
"We're asking this to start getting painful for you," Hall said of the campaign. "We're asking you to find some act of personal sacrifice that helps you stand in solidarity with those who will be most hurt by those cuts. Jim Wallis called it 'spiritual escalation.' The stakes have already been high, but we're calling everyone to go deeper."
In H.R. 1, which passed the House in February and is the subject of current negotiations, House Republicans are calling for $61 billion in total cuts to 2011 spending. And among the programs on the chopping block are two international food aid programs, the Food for Peace PL 480 program and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program.
"Seven in ten of the world's hungry are women, who are also responsible for ensuring that their families are fed," said Sharma in a statement on Monday. "As someone who has tried to live on a dollar a day myself in some of the world's poorest areas, I have experienced a little of what they struggle with every day. It is essential for our lawmakers not to slash budgets that invest in the sustainability of global food supplies when food prices and hunger are both at all-time highs."
Members of the coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim aid groups who appeared at the conference said the budget cuts proposed in the House represent a 2.6% cut in total spending but 26% cut in spending on poverty focused foreign aid. The extension of Bush era-tax cuts last December alone, they noted, will cost $6.7 billion through estate-planning loopholes.
Fasting participants will drink only water this week, with some beginning to add juices the week after.
"I'm having a doctor monitor me," said Hall, 69. "So I'm okay. I'm fine."