What struck me about that text I pasted above from a Quakers website about how to lobby your Congressman to help pass the bill was that it said that the five co-sponsors of it "re-introduced
the JUBILEE Act (H.R. 1130)". Re-introduced?
Turns out there was a previous
"Jubilee Act", which was launched ahead of the Jubilee year 2000. Full name "Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act of 1999" (H.R.1095). It eventually gathered no less than 140 co-sponsors; here's the bill summary on the Congress website
. I don't know what the end tally was in terms of Democrats/Republicans, but of the first 123 co-sponsors of the bill, 105 were Democrats and 18 Republicans, according to this Jubilee 2000 page
of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Unfortunately it got stuck in the legislative process, being referred to one then the other (sub)committee until it had "been in the Committee on Banking and Financial Services since March 1999".
But that had not been the end of the story even before this "reintroduction" of the Jubilee Act. A fascinating story about the fate of the original Jubilee Act and what was done for it is this account in The Journal of Pastoral Care
by a retired pastor, who prayed and fasted for some 45 days in the halls of Congress to lobby for the bill.
He and his supporters feared Jesse Helms' bitter opposition, but were actively supported by Democrat Joe Biden - and eventually got unexpected goodwill from Tom Delay. Moreover, the man, David Duncombe, only stopped his fast in the end because Representative Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican, pledged to continue his fast in Congress, inviting other congressmen volunteers to do a relay fast.
As noted above, it was initially all for naught, with Duncombe observing in August 2000 that the debt relief bill he championed was "technically alive but in fragments" - and without the required funding being set aside for it. "This session began with an ever bleaker outlook", he noted then, pointing out that the House Appropriations Committee had approved only $68 million of the needed $370 million. But "Then things began to turn around", he recounted:
In what has been called the "Wednesday Night Miracle," the House Appropriations Committee's $68 million vote was unexpectedly overturned by a bipartisan coalition in what resembled more a revival meeting than a sleepy late night legislative session. Speaker after speaker arose to talk about the need for human compassion, human justice and "doing what is right before God." When the vote was taken, the House had more than tripled the $68 million-and with money that had been earmarked for foreign military aid! Twenty-six Republicans crossed over to provide a 216-212 margin of victory. As one veteran congressional observer commented: "Wednesday night broke the back of the Republican opposition to debt relief."
Note that although the debt relief cause was championed in particular by a small group of devoted religious Republicans, the bulk of its support in Congress was from the Democratic caucus, with only a small minority of Republicans "crossing over" from the Right's disapproval. They were supported also by President Clinton, who "promised to veto any amout falling significantly short of the $475 million he [was] asking". Duncombe went back to fast and pray another 50 days to lobby for the funding and on October 25, 2000 "both houses of Congress passed, and the President [Clinton] signed, funding for dept forgiveness totalling $435 millon. [..] Representative John Kasich (R-OH) called the vote an historic act of grace
and Representative John LaFalace (D-NY) claimed it to be the most important foreign policy initiative for the new millennium
Well, now we are four years on and it looks like more progress is being made (and, dare I say, that it's been helped along a little by a President who seems a little more willing to move than the Republican leadership used to be, perhaps thanks in particular to the religious activism on the subject). Meanwhile, I think the story above offers a very nice example of how liberals and devout Christians can find each other, and work together, in a common cause and a common language: that of solidarity with the poor of this world. And overcome the opposition of traditional, free-market, national-interest-first Republicans.