The Washington Times - February 17, 2009, 01:19PM

Just in case Barack Obama’s new Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office needs a few ideas on how to handle poverty, there’s a 16-member group of liberal and conservative Christians more than willing to help out.

Called “The Poverty Forum,” several of its members had a press conference Tuesday, announcing its work on gathering together Republicans and Democrats since Nov. 21 to present the Obama Administration with concrete suggestions on the topic. Why poverty? As its co-chair, Sojourners President Jim Wallis said, “Poverty is mentioned 2,000 times in the Bible.”

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Mr. Wallis, by the way, is one of 25 religious leaders serving on President Obama’s new advisory council to address several concerns: poverty, abortion, fatherless children and interfaith relations.

The co-chair of The Poverty Forum is Michael Gerson, former White House speechwriter and now a fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. He and Mr. Wallis took up the first 20 or so minutes of the press conference talking about “collaboration amidst political differences,” “poverty at the top of the agenda,” “political differences that have separated us” and “a solidarity of interest among all Americans.”

“We need better political will and better ideas,” said Mr. Wallis, who took up a lot of air time congratulating the group for being bipartisan. But hey, Mr. Gerson called the gathering “an orgy of strange bedfellows.” There is some truth to that: Any group that unites Sojourners with the Family Research Council can claim to be marrying opposites within the Christian community.

OK, what are these “best ideas from both sides”? Click here to see them. They range from lifetime savings accounts for every child born in the United States, seeded by $500 at birth; more tax credits for economic stimuli in poor neighborhoods; housing vouchers allowing poor families to move up to richer communities; continued funding for the Second Chance Act that works to keep ex-prisoners out of jail; college savings programs for the poor; increasing by $175 million funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program; increasing the minimum wage; making the child tax credit work for families earning less than $8,500 a year and insuring that a federal health insurance program for kids (known as SCHIP) includes unborn children.

Mr. Wallis was asked about the latter at the press conference.

“We have got to get past the old fear of slippery slopes and what this language might mean to this argument,” said Mr. Wallis, in a reference to pro-choice advocates’ reluctance to agree to any protections for the unborn, for fear that they may be the “slippery slope” to ending abortion.

Working in teams of two, usually people of differing perspectives, several teams of policy wonks put together all these suggestions, which will be passed onto the Obama Administration and certain allies on Capitol Hill. 

The team members are included below:

Family Policy
• John Cusey, Former Special Assistant to Wade Horn, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
• Kathy Edin, Professor at the Kennedy School of Government

Health Care
• Kathy Saile, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
• Jim Capretta, Fellow in the Economics and Ethics Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

Education
• Dr. Robert Franklin, President, Morehouse College.
• Terrell Halaska, Former Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, U.S. Dept. of Education

Asset Building
• Mary Nelson, Founder, Bethel New Life
• Randy Brandt, U.S. Department of State
 
Strengthening Civil Society
• Melissa Rogers, Director of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs
• Stanley Carlson-Thies, Director of Social Policy Studies, Center for Public Justice
 
“Making Work Work”
• Ron Sider , Evangelicals for Social Action
• Chuck Donovan, Executive Vice President, Family Research Council
 
Community Factors (i.e. Crime and Re-Entry)
• Angela Blackwell, Executive Director of Policy Link
• Brent Orrell, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and External Relations at the Administration for Children and Family Services

— Julia Duin, religion editor