How Donald Trump's divisive Budget is provoking a Christian backlash – and affecting the poorest in the US and abroad
Amid all the drama that surrounds Donald Trump's faltering administration, a tenure that some believe may come to an end some time this year, there has been relatively little focus internationally on the Republican party's Budget, unveiled this week.
Criticisms of the Budget, including from faith leaders and communities in the US, are fascinating because they act as a microcosm of Trump's growing domestic problem: the question of how his reforms are affecting his own voters, including white evangelicals, on the ground in America.
The prime example of these is the American Health Care Act and its $880 billion cut to Medicaid for low-income people.
Yesterday, the non-partisan watchdog, the Congressional Budget Office, said that the bill would cause 23 million people to lose healthcare coverage by 2026. Further, it would destabilise health insurance markets in some states and make it difficult for sick people to buy insurance.
On top of this, the Budget aims to slash the Children's Health Insurance Program, the Social Security Disability Insurance programme, Meals on Wheels, and federal funding for the leading shelter NGO Habitat for Humanity. It would also cut SNAP (formerly food stamps) by more than 25 per cent and eliminate federal funding for subsidised school lunches.
'From leaked reports we know President Trump's budget is continuing his big push for unprecedented cuts to programs that are important to hungry people in our country and around the world,' said Rev David Beckmann, the president of the Christian umbrella group Bread for the World. '[We] ask for God's help and guidance in challenging attacks on poor, hungry, and vulnerable people.'
He said: 'The cuts to Medicaid and the proposed budget cuts to social safety net programs such as SNAP are a double whammy for people who struggle to feed their families. We hope the fast spreads widely, with many people and organizations finding this a helpful way to deepen and intensify our commitment to advocacy.'
Meanwhile, in a hard-hitting comment piece for Sojo.net, the Christian writer Jim Wallace posed the question: 'What would Jesus cut?'
'The budget released by the Trump administration is anything but "good news" for the poor,' he said. 'It would be terrible news for those whom Jesus called "the least of these," the central focus in his final sermon that also calls upon "the nations" to protect the most vulnerable.
'Leaders in the faith community must stand up to these deeply flawed priorities, to say that the choice to protect the rich instead of the poor in the name of deficit reduction is an immoral one. Demonising the poor and slashing programs that benefit low-income people – while refusing to scrutinise the much larger subsidies we provide to the wealthy – is hypocritical and cruel.'
Then there is foreign aid.
Evangelicals – and especially those who sympathise strongly with Israel – may favour the proposed 50 per cent cuts to the $10 billion budget to the UN, but faith leaders have objected to wider cuts to overseas aid spending, just as Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, led opposition to foreign aid cuts during the UK general election.
Trump's proposed budget asks for a $10.9 billion cut in State Department funding, among other international programmes, to help pay for a 10 per cent increase in military spending. This translates to a 28 per cent cut to State Department and international spending.
This prompted more than a hundred evangelical and Catholic leaders to write an open letter objecting to the cuts. 'We're writing to share our support for the International Affairs Budget that every day brings hope to poor, hungry, vulnerable and displaced men, women and children around the world,' the Christian leaders wrote. 'It is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget.
'Matthew 25 tells us when we serve the least of these, we are serving the Lord. As people of faith, we cannot turn our back on those in desperate need. We are grateful for America's global development and diplomacy programs that have been instrumental in saving lives, safeguarding religious liberties, and keeping America safe and secure.'
The letter's signatories include Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez, World Vision USA president Rich Stearns and the singers Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, among many others.
In the end, Congress will have to decide. And all the indications are that the Budget is not set to pass, with opposition from Democrats and a growing number of Republicans who are keen to disassociate themselves from Trump as his presidency looks set possibly to run into the sand. 'If taken as is the President's budget, it would be very harmful, said Kentucky Republican represntative Hal Rogers told reporters on Tuesday. 'I've said before these cuts that are being proposed are draconian. They are not mere shavings. They are really deep, deep cuts.' Instead, the Budget is a mere wish-list from Trump and not a bill which will be signed into law. Overall, Washington insiders agree that it is highly unlikely to pass.
Nonetheless, with his divisive Budget, Trump has drawn this year's battle-lines in Washington and beyond in the US.
Whether in the end, having helped propel him to office, Christians could spearhead Trump's downfall remains to be seen.