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Activists Ask Pelosi to Halt Budget Cuts

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi meets with anti-poverty activists who are fasting to draw attention to the effect that budget cuts may have on the poor.

One week into a hunger strike, activists opposing budget cuts proposed by House Republicans said Monday that they made their first breakthrough on Capitol Hill, meeting with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss their efforts.

But they took away no solid pledge of support.

The California Democrat did not promise to rescue the social programs that members of the HungerFast.org campaign seek to preserve, such as Head Start and the Women, Infants and Children feeding program. The activists argue that budget cuts proposed by Republicans fall disproportionately on the poor and hungry.

When asked whether Democrats will vote against a budget compromise that includes such cuts, Pelosi said, “I don’t think Democrats are very inclined to support this level of cuts, but let us see where they are.”

Organizers claim that since the fast began March 28, more than 30,000 people in a broad coalition that includes the Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org and the Christian group Sojourners have joined in some capacity. Some have agreed to skip lunch until Congress settles the budget debate, while others have been on a liquid-only diet.

“As long as we’re focusing on nickel-and-diming poor people, we’re not having the debate that’s worthy of our country and our people. We’ve got to take it to the higher ground,” Pelosi said, thanking the activists for drawing attention to what may be at stake in the budget debates.

Tony Hall (D), a former Member from Ohio who went on a hunger strike in the 1990s to protest the closing of a Congressional committee, said he decided to participate because the stakes are high.

“Some cuts we are contemplating actually will kill people,” he said. After a week of drinking just water, the 69-year-old added apple juice to his diet Monday. “[The fast] reminds people, including elected officials, of what really is going on in the world and in their own country — that there are a lot of hungry people.”

But conservatives are seeking deeper cuts and dismiss the warnings of the hunger activists.

Levi Russell, a spokesman for Tea Party Express, said claims that the cuts will starve low-income families are “absurd and ridiculous to the extreme.”

 “There have been tens and tens of billions of dollars added to the budget over the last number of years and the poor are just as poor as before,” Russell said. 

Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, began fasting Friday and said the campaign is also a “spiritual act.”

Fasting is a way “to restore a moral dimension to a debate that has been about numbers and who has the upper hand politically,” Ruben added.

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