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Inside the Beltway: In God they don’t trust

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Will they lean left and favor progressive Democrats? A political phenomenon has emerged with the launch of the Freethought Equality Fund, the first political action committee that supports candidates who are humanists, atheists or agnostics — and advocates for the rights of "nonbelievers" and the separation of church and state.

The group, organized by the Center for Humanist Activism, took its case to the National Press Club on Wednesday.

"The increasing numbers of nonreligious Americans now have a vibrant PAC that will be directly supporting candidates who champion the principles of secular government now so fervently under attack," coordinator Bishop McNeill says.

"There is a clear need to assist candidates who will challenge those looking to use the power of government to impose religious doctrines on everyone."

Yes, there's already a grass-roots outreach. No, there are no entries on the organization's "candidate endorsements" list.

"When people see respected ethical humanists and atheists serve in public office, this will begin to dispel many myths about nonbelievers," the group advises. "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity."

TRILLION-DOLLAR CHESS MATCH

The moves, the maneuvers, the finesse, or the lack of it. The Affordable Care Act makes for a high stakes game board as congressional Republicans and the White House wrangle over the fate of legislation that has been a Democratic icon for years, or at least since Hillary Rodham Clinton pined for universal health care when she was first lady two decades ago. A few of the moves afoot:

In some 24 hours, the House votes on an assertive continuing resolution that keeps the government open but defunds Obamacare. Naturally, that legislation will meet a chilly audience before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Democratic peers. And President Obama would — naturally — veto it.

Mr. Obama is already warning federal agencies to batten down the hatches and prepare for a government shutdown, a phenomenon meant to be conveniently blamed on the GOP. But wait. There's pushback in progress. It's really the Democrats at fault here.

"A solution is within sight in order to avert another crisis of Washington's creation," says Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican. " President Obama and his allies in Congress should abandon their threats of shutting down the government and instead work with Republicans to pass this proposal."

Meanwhile, the Republican Study Committee has unveiled the "American Health Care Reform Act," a bill to repeal and replace Mr. Obama's health care law, framing their alternative as a common-sense, practical outcome.

"While we continue fighting to repeal the president's health care law, it is also important to lay out the reforms we stand behind and support," said Chairman Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

"The centuries-old oath taken by health care professionals reads 'do no harm.' It is time for Washington lawmakers to take a similar approach when working to fix the problems that exist in our broken health care system. Simply repealing the president's health care law is not enough — it must be replaced," the preamble to the act states.

SHUTDOWN OR SHOWDOWN?

The Office of Management and Budget has already issued a 16-page memo to federal agencies advising them on "prudent management" should there be "a potential lapse in appropriations."

Uh-oh. And then what happens?

"If President Obama shuts down the government by vetoing a continuing resolution that funds all government operations with the exception of Obamacare, or the Senate fails to pass such a resolution, crucial services will continue without interruption," explains Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. That includes services related to national security, public safety and payments for Social Security and veterans' benefits.

"The key fact, as the Department of Justice itself has said, is that when there is a short-term lapse in appropriations, the federal government will not be truly shut down," Mr. von Spakovsky continues, noting that even Justice deems the term "shutdown" as inaccurate. A lapse in funding would be "neither catastrophic nor unprecedented," he says. It would pare down government services to essentials to protect life and property.

"That would not include the hundreds of billions of dollars in the federal budget that are constantly squandered and wasted on frivolous, unnecessary, and unneeded programs," Mr. von Spakovsky observes.

PARTY HEARTY

Their work may never, ever be done.

The Media Research Center tenaciously tracks political bias in the news media with hard numbers and clear evidence. And once a year, they party. The time has come once again. The watchdog's annual "Dishonors Awards" gets under way Sept. 26 in a big, bodacious hotel three blocks from the White House; nearly 1,000 conservative stalwarts will gather to witness and vote upon hair-raising, left-leaning performances by elite liberal journalists.

Among those on the podium: Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican; Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, congressional hopeful Mia Love, Fox News commentator Monica Crowley and, of course, the organization's founder and bias-detector-in-chief, Brent Bozell.

"While media bias is not always a laughing matter — the media are, after all, the chief propagandists for the radical left — we think every once in a while it's healthy to poke fun at the hardcore leftists who comprise the national press corps," observes an organizer.

VINE, FIG, DUCK

What? Recognition for a journalist who addresses faith and religion? Those topics currently accounts for a minuscule 1 percent of overall news coverage. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty presents the very first Vine & Fig Tree Award on Thursday to Eric Marrapodi, a CNN producer and co-founder of the network's "Belief Blog," which generates an average 7 million page views each month from those hungry for news about the creator, faith issues and other spiritual complexities.

Mr. Marrapodi will be feted at a hotel on the edge of Georgetown, complete with champagne toast, premium cocktails and an elegant welter of goodies from raw bars and sushi bars, and "duck carving stations." And the vine and fig part?

The name of the award comes from George Washington's reference to the "vine and fig tree" to illustrate the importance of religious liberty for all, in a letter to the Newport, R.I., Hebrew Congregation in 1790:

"Every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

POLL DU JOUR

60 percent of Americans say President Obama "sticks by his principles"; 34 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats agree.

54 percent of Americans overall say Mr. Obama is a "strong leader"; 21 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats agree.

52 percent overall say Mr. Obama is a good commander in chief of the military; 14 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats agree.

47 percent of Americans overall say Mr. Obama "shares their values"; 10 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Washington Post/ABC News poll of 1,004 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 12-15.

Genteel observations, catcalls, grunts to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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