- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More than 100 religious leaders and activists were arrested yesterday for blocking the entrance to a congressional office building in protest of budget cuts they considered “immoral” and oppressive to the poor.

“There is a Christmas scandal in this nation … and it is the budget that is an assault on poor people and low-income families,” said Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian ministry Sojourners, which helped organize the protest. “This budget and these cuts fill the rich with good things and send the poor away hungry.”

The protest, in which participants knelt at the entrance of the Cannon House Office Building, was part of a nationwide effort to organize prayer vigils to oppose House budget cuts that would affect such benefits as food stamps, Medicaid and student aid and would save $50 billion over the next five years.

About 300 persons participated in the protest, which began at about 11 a.m. in subfreezing temperatures. Shortly before noon, a crowd moved to the building’s steps, where participants knelt in prayer, sang spirituals and ignored three warnings by the U.S. Capitol Police to move away from the building.

Protest organizers said 114 petitioners were arrested for blocking the building’s entrance. They were ordered to pay a $50 fine and released.

Mr. Wallis, whose book “God’s Politics” counters the conservative right’s definitions of religion in the political spectrum, was among those arrested. Civil rights leader John M. Perkins and author Ronald J. Sider also were arrested.

The protest began shortly after leading House and Senate Democrats also invoked the Christmas spirit to help the poor — by urging Republicans to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2005 before Congress leaves for Christmas recess.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; Rep. George Miller, California Democrat; and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat and House minority whip, were among those who stood in front of the Capitol Christmas Tree and urged Republicans to increase base wages from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour.

“It’s a fairness issue,” said Mr. Kennedy, whose two previous attempts to pass the act were blocked by Republicans in Congress this year. “That’s not the Christmas spirit; that’s not the Christmas we believe in.”

If it is passed, the act would increase the minimum wage for the first time since 1997. The Democrats cited a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research that said full-time, minimum-wage workers generally live below the poverty level and that the proposed raise would increase their income by more than $1,500 per year.

The report “shows what a difference this would make in the lives of those earning the minimum wage and how it would brighten their holiday season,” Mr. Hoyer said. “This is an issue of fairness, of decency and of right.”

Mr. Kennedy last proposed the legislation as an amendment in October, when it was defeated by a 51-47 vote in the Senate.

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