This year has proven to be a challenging one for public policy advocates. As we are all aware, the decision making deadlock in the halls of Congress has resulted in disappointment and frustration for those engaged in the work of justice advocacy. We have seen over and over that there are those among our elected officials for whom political gamesmanship and the pushing of a rigid political ideology has eclipsed any desire to serve the people whom they were elected to care for and represent.
This betrayal of the common good is a bitter pill to swallow, but despite all the obstacles we faced as a nation in 2011 scripture reminds us that we cannot give up hope.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." - Galatians 6:9
For your part, members of the Justice and Peace Action Network refused to be silenced. Together you sent nearly 33,000 letters, faxes and phone calls to decision makers. There is much we can do by lifting our voices together in 2012. Get ready for a year of action by reviewing some of the issues you advocated on and preparing for what comes next.
Environment - Face to Face with Extractive Resources
The PR battle against the destructive processes of mining coal,
drilling and mining for oil, and fracking for natural gas intensified
enormously in 2011. The Gulf Oil disaster in 2010 set the stage, mountaintop
removal/clean water legislation in Congress raised the public policy discussion
to a new level, and Moving Planet/350.org energized voices in local
communities. The September demonstrations in Washington, DC against the XL
Pipeline helped President Obama delay approval of the enormous environmental
destruction and climate change potential of the tar sands pipeline. So in 2011,
the new awareness has become Extractive
Industries? - No! Clean Water? - Yes! Learn more about Environmental Ministries.
During 2011 Congress repeatedly debated federal budget issues. Policymakers disagreed over many issues but especially over cutting the deficit, the need for additional stimulus spending, and raising taxes on the wealthy. In mid-summer the federal government reached the limits of its authority to borrow money. Just in time to prevent a default, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 which raised the debt ceiling and imposed reductions in the federal deficit of $2.1 to $2.4 trillion over 10 years. Nearly half the deficit reduction will occur through spending cuts specified in the BCA and additional reductions of at least $1.2 trillion were to be identified by a bipartisan “super-committee.” But when the super-committee failed to reach an agreement, the BCA’s automatic spending cuts were triggered. Starting in January, 2013, the budget deficit will be reduced by $1.2 trillion through a mix of tax increases and cuts spread equally between military and non-military spending. The year ended with a final clash over whether to extend payroll tax cuts and long-term unemployment insurance benefits into 2012. In late December, Congress voted to extend both but only through February, 2012, when policymakers will need to revisit these policies.
Food Policy and Agriculture
You advocated for two bills during Mission: 1—the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. Both bills have numerous cosponsors and support for inclusion in the every-five-years-or-so (Food and) Farm Bill that is expected to be considered by Congress during 2012. The UCC will be working to make sure these two pieces of legislation get in the Farm Bill. We will also work for strong soil and water conservation policies in the Farm Bill. We will support other issues that come up that are in line with UCC food and agriculture policy.
Health Care - Let's Move!
The signing of the Affordable Care Act by President Obama introduced more focus on prevention with the goal of creating healthier communities. Last year the United Church of Christ joined First Lady Michele Obama to reduce and/or eliminate childhood obesity and to call attention to the devastating effects of obesity in adults by participating in her Let's Move three million walking challenge across the nation. United Church of Christ congregations wholeheartedly embraced this campaign and contributed over 300,000 walking miles to the White House. Our efforts assisted the First Lady in meeting her goal. Approximately 2600 individuals in over 200 UCC churches participated.
The 112th Congress has not considered any legislation that may alleviate our immigration situation, leaving it to individual states to adopt an array of laws that have resulted in legalized intimidation against immigrants. In places like Alabama, farm workers fled the state leaving behind crops rotting in the fields. The spread of state laws modeled after Arizona’s infamous S. B. 1070 underscores the need for the Congress to address immigration reform.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), whose most recent version, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has now shaped federal public education policy for ten years, is long overdue for reauthorization. A senate committee agreed on a reauthorization bill in October of 2011, but this version does not eliminate many of the worst features of NCLB. Even if the full senate were to adopt the bill, there is little chance the House would agree to the senate version. Many believe the reauthorization will now drag on until 2013. The Department of Education has offered states waivers as a way to escape some of NCLB’s most punitive consequences. Many are watching whether the waivers will be granted only if states adopt the Department’s priorities, or whether the Department will offer some latitude to states for creativity. More information.
The strategy of those whose goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade has shifted to state legislation. In December, Ohio became the latest battleground. HB 125, known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” would outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected with no exception for pregnancies which result from rape or incest. United Church of Christ leaders testified powerfully in opposition to HB 125 basing their statements on long-standing General Synod support for reproductive justice. HB 125 is now on hold. The statements of Ohio Conference Minister, the Rev. Bob Molsberry, the Rev. Dr. Leslie Taylor, and UCC member and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director, Kellie Copeland, are posted on the OH Conference website.
Despite the severe unemployment crisis – nearly one in six potential workers is jobless or working too few hours – Congress has done very little to create jobs. Over the year the unemployment rate fell from 9.0% to 8.6% but other, more inclusive data show the share of the population who is working at its lowest level since 1983. Over 1.4 million new jobs were created in 2011 but this is barely enough to keep up with the natural growth in the workforce. This pace of job creation is too slow to significantly reduce joblessness. American families need jobs. Job creation must be Congress’ first priority. More information.
After a decade at war, the ceremonial lowering of the American flag on December 15th marked the end of the Iraq War. As a nation, we honor the over 1 million Americans who served in Iraq and remember the painful costs associated with war. 4,500 American soldiers gave their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom as did an untold number of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. We mourn this loss and for years we will shoulder the financial cost of the war estimated at over $3 trillion. As we mark the end of formal operations in Iraq, we also join our voices with many calling for a responsible and expedited end to the war in Afghanistan. Read faith letter on war in Afghanistan.