Christian leaders split sharply over the 2006 federal budget and deficit-reduction bill. They differed not just on how Washington can help the poor, vulnerable, and aged, but also the extent that government should.

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 on February 1. The spending measure trims $39.5 billion from the federal budget over five years. The largest cuts target Medicare and Medicaid. The act also reduced $343 million for foster-care programs and $5 billion over 10 years to states for enforcing child support.

Many Christian leaders condemned the spending reductions as immoral. "Today's vote was a callous vote," the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said in a statement on February 1. "In spite of five straight years of increasing hunger and poverty, this Congress decided to cut aid for the poor to help finance tax cuts for the wealthy."

Some conservative evangelicals, including Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also voiced concerns about the budget. But many Republicans in Congress with ties to religious conservatives voted for the spending cuts and disagreed that the government should prioritize aiding the poor and marginalized.

"I believe the 'least of these' is my daughter, who's 4 years old, and my son, who's 2 years old, and all of those not born," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said. "I believe it's unfair to saddle them with debt way into the future."

In December, Capitol Police arrested 115 religious activists, including Jim Wallis and John Perkins, during a protest against the budget when they blocked the entrance to a House office building. Wallis, founder and head of Call to ...

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