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Debt Limit Fight: Is There a Christian Compromise?


House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delayed a vote yesterday on  his plan to raise the federal debt limit because he did not have enough votes, according to Politico. Within his own party, freshman and tea party legislators wanted Speaker Boehner to push for more restrictions on spending. From the other side of the aisle, Democrats (including more conservative "blue dog" Democrats) opposed it. Indeed, the only bipartisan cooperation found this week in Washington appears to be an agreement to oppose any compromise on the debt limit. The House could vote on a plan to raise the debt ceiling today.  

The plan proposed Boehner would raise the debt limit (enough to cover until around February 2012). The plan is facing strong opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Breakpoint's Charles Colson said the inability for those on the right and the left to come together is a sign that Washington is broken. Colson said that leaders in Washington need to do the right thing for the country despite the political costs.

"I've been involved in or fascinated by politics for more than 50 years," Colson said. "But in all these years, I've never seen the kind of chaos, recalcitrance, and perhaps downright obstructionism that I'm witnessing in the battle over the budget and the debt ceiling."

Colson is not alone. A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that 68 percent of Americans believe that legislators should compromise rather than stand by their principles, even if that means the government will default. Support for compromise was greatest among Democrats, but a majority of Republicans also preferred to give up some of their positions to get a deal.

The one group in the public that rejected compromise, however, were Republicans who said they agreed with the tea party. By a 53 to 42 margin, these Republicans wanted Congress to stick to their principles. Other conservatives are  also calling on Congress to reject the Boehner plan as a bridge too far.

Many social conservative groups, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, believe the best plan is the so-called "Cut, Cap, and Balance" bill (CCB) that passed the House last week. The CCB would dramatically cut spending immediately, cap future spending to 18 percent of GDP, and require a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. 

The Family Research Council (FRC) is one group calling on Congress to reject Boehner's plan. FRC president Tony Perkins said the plan falls short of the CCB.

"I applaud [Boehner] for helping to get us to this point where there is now serious discussion taking place across America about Washington's spending problem. But now is not the time to give in to those whose political fortunes are built upon enslaving the rest of us to debt," Perkins said.

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said that any plan other than the CCB would be a betrayal of Republican (and tea party) principles. Fischer said that the House should propose nothing more than the CCB. For Fischer, raising the debt limit at all is a compromise.

"I'm with those who are in favor of simply refusing to raise the debt ceiling at all," Fischer said. "The only reason I support CCB is that although it does raise the debt ceiling, it will put us on a glide path to fiscal responsibility by cutting and capping spending and giving the states an opportunity to tell Washington to do what 49 of them are required to do by law or state constitution, which is balance the budget."

Other groups like Sojourners believe Boehner's plan cuts too much and would hurt the poor. The group is buying radio ads in Ohio, Kentucky, and Nevada to try to persuade members of Congress to remember the poor as they reduce the deficit.

Tim King, Sojourners communications director, said that the poor are being forgotten in the debate over the debt. Reflecting on this week's prime time addresses by Obama and Boehner. "Neither of them mentioned how their plans would affect the poor," King said. "The Christian tradition teaches that if you forget about the poor, you forget about Jesus."

Tom Minnery, executive director of Focus on the Family's CitizenLink said that the best thing people can do is pray for a productive compromise.

"[Pray] that wisdom will triumph in Washington, that there will be some real negotiations producing some real reform, real change so that our country will not go the way of Greece,"Minnery said. "This is a time when there is a great gulf between liberals and conservatives but they must come together and get something done."

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