By Jacqueline L. Salmon
After a spirited (pun intended) lobbying effort, a group of faith-based organizations has persuaded House movers and shakers to include religious organizations in the energy bill that passed on Friday.
At the last minute, at the behest of a coalition led by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, House leaders inserted a provision in the bill that would provide subsidies of up to one-half the cost of retrofitting energy systems of faith-based and other nonprofits. It’s a testament to the lobbying clout of faith-based groups–although how far that influence will extend into other issues looming in Congress is an open question (more on that later).
On the energy bill, Nathan Diament,director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, said today that his group noticed back in March, when House Democrats first unveiled the bill, that it didn’t include anything for nonprofits. His group met with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman and subcommittee chairman Edward J. Markey – “both of whom were receptive to our perspective” that nonprofit groups should be included.
It put together an influential coalition, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, United Jewish Communities, as well as the Rev. Joel Hunter of megachurch Northand, Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Jim Wallis of Sojourners.
By the time the committee marked up the bill, Waxman had inserted language making nonprofits, including faith-based, eligible under the retrofit subsidy program.
Victory there. Now onto the Senate. The bill in the works there doesn’t have an analogous provision. The coalition is working on increasing the subsidy beyond 50 percent since, Diament points out, many nonprofits wouldn’t be able to afford pricey energy retrofits even with a 50 percent subsidy.
Now, onto other issues. Health care reform, in which faith-based groups are deeply involved. Several hundred have formed large coalitions to push for universal health-care coverage. They’re paying for ad campaigns, organizing pastors’ sermons, launching lobbying campaigns, holding candle-light vigils, arguing that ensuring that all should be covered by health insurance is a moral and theological imperative.
Will they be successful on that front? Of course, that’s impossible to predict right now. But they’re hunting bigger game this time around. The retrofit subsidy is very narrow and affects a particularly slice of civil society. This goal is far more sweeping–and more prone to failure.