Let’s review: on January 24, President Obama delivered his sixty-five-minute State of the Union address and decided poverty—the p-word—merited barely a mention. One week later, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney did him a solid by announcing, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” The very next day, in a stroke of luck I’m sure some would be hard-pressed not to attribute to divine intervention, Obama had the good fortune of attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast, where the specter of Romney stuffing coal in children’s stockings still hung in the air.
For the president, a preternatural campaigner, it was carpe diem.
“Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old,” he said. “It also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’ It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.… They are values that have always made this country great—when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.”
Just over a week later, Obama’s faith journey would arrive at the release of his 2013 budget—for what is a budget if not a moral document, a statement of principles and priorities? Would he live up to the standard he laid out at the prayer breakfast? Or was the breakfast “one day a year” when he gave “lip service,” quickly receding when the political moment passed.
The short answer is: depends whom you ask. It seems for the majority of antipoverty advocates the president’s budget is mostly good news.
“Overall, the president’s budget underscores that poverty reduction and deficit reduction can be accomplished simultaneously,” writes Melissa Boteach, manager at Half in Ten, a campaign to reduce poverty by 50 percent over ten years.
“The budget sets up pivotal choices,” argues Debbie Weinstein, executive director at the Coalition on Human Needs. “[It] calls for investments aimed at helping those with low or moderate incomes, paid for in large part by asking more of upper-income people, who are now being taxed at historically low levels.”