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Health Care Reform's Final Round?

Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action fight for "health care justice"; other groups urge starting over. Plus, conservatives grow frustrated by libertarians and coddlers of killer whales.

Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.

Bipartisan Brawl

The President and congressional leaders met Thursday for a "bipartisan" health care summit. Democrats said reform could not wait any longer; Republicans wanted to start over and move incrementally. Political advocacy groups jumped into the fray, often echoing partisan talking points.

Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action joined other religious groups in sending an open letter to President Obama. The letter was included in an advertisement in the Washington political newspaper The Hill.

"As people of faith, we envision a society where every person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity. … Let us not delay health care justice any longer," admonished the signatories.

Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, repeated the call for action on his God's Politics blog. "Inaction on health care is not an option; too many lives depend on it," said Wallis.

"People of faith won't give up, and they're going to keep galvanizing around the urgent need for reform that makes quality healthcare accessible and affordable for all American families," added Dan Nejfelt of Faith in Public Life. "There's too much at stake to let this opportunity slip away."

Other advocacy groups sided with the Republican call to scrap Obama's plan and begin anew.

"It's time to start over and adhere to time-tested American convictions: The Constitution matters, market-based changes work, big government is dangerous and inefficient—and the bedrock belief in the right to life is something that must never be bartered away," said Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council (FRC) in an article in Roll Call.

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, reiterated a similar call to begin anew. "Republicans should continue to insist on a clean slate and a fresh start," Lafferty said before the summit. "The bipartisan summit should begin with a new proposal which helps the uninsured but doesn't destroy a health system which is working for 8 out of 10 Americans."

Erica Wanis of the Center for a Just Society warned against assuming that the federal government was the only solution for health care problems. "Action for action's sake is not a wise course of action, particularly when it's virtually guaranteed that the involvement of big government is guaranteed to make things exponentially worse," said Wanis.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) issued a point-by-point critique of the President's health care proposal. The ERLC was pleased that the plan does not propose a "public option" and includes consumer protections. The ERLC objected to much of the proposal, but emphasized that the most important point was the proposal's lack of an explicit ban on abortion funding.

FRC president Tony Perkins agreed: "The President missed his opportunity to adopt the most popular piece of reform, Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) outright ban on government-funded abortion."

What is next for health care reform? Mike Allen of Politico reported that Democrats viewed the summit as evidence of gridlock. They have already decided to push forward with the President's plan. This will likely be done through the use of reconciliation, a Senate parliamentary procedure that cannot be filibustered.

Ashley Horne of Focus on the Family Action predicted this outcome during Focus Action's weekly webcast. "At the same that the Democrats and that the President are calling for bipartisanship, they're also in the back rooms, and really publicly, kind of saying 'we're going to use reconciliation … we're going to use this process and ram it through anyway,'" said Horne.

A Crack in Conservatism?

CPAC is the annual get-together for conservatives. But this year, there were signs of tensions between libertarians and social conservatives. Mike Huckabee said that CPAC was becoming too libertarian rather than Republican. Tom McClusky of FRC joined a discussion on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss differences between what host Chris Matthews labeled "libertarian conservatives" and "churchey conservatives."

Elijah Friedeman of the American Family Association bemoaned the results of a poll of CPAC attendees. When asked which two issues were most important, a majority (52%) said "reducing the size of the federal government." A third said "reducing government spending." Only 1 in 10  said abortion; 1 in 20 said "promoting traditional values."

"This poll from CPAC highlights the uphill battle advocates of social conservatism must fight to stay on equal footing with many conservatives who focus almost exclusively on fiscal issues," concluded Friedeman.

Religious political advocacy groups made clear their differences with libertarian groups, particularly on the issue of gay rights. The Center for Military Readiness held a news conference at CPAC. The FRC and Focus on the Family Action also participated.

CPAC was cosponsored by many social conservative organizations such as Alliance Defense Fund, American Center for Law and Justice, Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family Action, and Prison Fellowship. This year, CPAC was also sponsored by GOProud, a group that "represents gay conservatives and their allies." Also at the conference were libertarian groups that support same-sex marriage and a repeal of the military's ban on homosexuality.

Bryan Fischer of the AFA saw the sponsorship by GOProud as a sign that CPAC was no longer truly conservative. For Fischer, the GOProud sponsorship gave "visibility and recognition to its effort to legitimize sexual deviancy."

"For David Keene and the others who run CPAC, natural marriage is not, in their judgment, a fundamental conservative value. This conference, for the sake of truth in advertising, should be relabeled 'The Libertarian Political Action Conference.' It has forfeited any legitimate claim to the 'Conservative' moniker," said Fischer.

Odds and Ends

  • James Dobson signed off as host of Focus on the Family. We'll round up reactions in next week's tracker.
  • Al Mohler discussed an ill-fated proposal by a legislator in Michigan that would eliminate no-fault divorce. Mohler said the bill "may be a sign that a public debate on the effects of no-fault divorce might be taking shape. If so, this can only be for good. Let's hope that this bill sends the message that at least one state might muster the courage to rethink no-fault divorce."
  • Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good coauthored a report that finds a need for greater emphasis on religion in U.S. foreign policy.
  • In a blog post, "Bible Ignored, Trainer Dies," Bryan Fischer of the AFA argued that the death this week of a SeaWorld trainer would have been avoided if not for the "ongoing failure of the West to take counsel on practical matters from the Scripture." Citing Exodus 21:28, Fischer said while an owner is not liable if an animal kills a person, "the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn't kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal." Chastising SeaWorld officials, Fischer said, "the blood of Dawn Brancheau is on your hands."

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site. Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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