During the most difficult economic period in several generations, I count myself fortunate. In addition to the blessings of family and reasonably good health, I represent a true community of conscience in the Congress of the United States.

Here in the Baltimore Region, we devote considerable attention to our shortcomings. We also should recognize the culture of caring about others that does so much to sustain our community. This is an element of the truth about ourselves that so pervades our daily lives that it may go unnoticed. It should not.

Here in our community, heroes and heroines are responding to their own struggles in life, not by taking from others, but by giving. Despite the challenges on our streets, at our jobs and in our schools, they have never lost the vision and will to overcome. I share these reflections to give credit where credit is due – and I have another, even more compelling motivation as well.

All too often, when I go to work in Washington, I encounter a more self-centered, less generous vision for our country.

We all should be clear. The political arguments about budgets in Washington and our state legislatures have implications far beyond the appropriate role of government in our lives. At their heart, these legislative struggles are about the quality of life that we, as Americans, are committed to providing for our children and the generations yet unborn.

Our governments – at every level – face financial deficits that must be addressed. Yet, underlying many of the arguments about balancing our public accounts is a more fundamental moral challenge.

When 220,000 Marylanders and more than 13,000,000 other Americans are taking the early bus each day in a struggle to find jobs, proposals to cut job training and referral programs are immoral, as well as fiscally unwise.

When we know that modest amounts invested now in federal Women, Infants and Children funding can save tens of thousands of lives (and billions of dollars) in the years to come, efforts to cut this vital funding are totally inconsistent with the value our nation places upon human life.

When those who applaud educational achievement vote to cut 10,000 teachers, tutors and aides from low-income, Title I public schools nationwide – and to cut federal financial aid for more than 10 million deserving college students – how can they defend themselves against charges of hypocrisy?

I wish that I could assure my neighbors that the Republican “Tea Party” attack upon our future as a great nation is limited to the examples that I have noted.

It is not. Even a perfunctory review of H.R. 1, passed by the House (235-189) by a Republican party-line vote, reveals a lock-step, ideological disregard for America’s “safety net,” our prosperity, our public health, our environment, and our security.
Perhaps even more profound, we are facing a serious challenge to the moral sensibilities that are the foundation of our national unity.

We can trust the Senate and our president to fight for us and the American values that H.R. 1 disregards. I also have faith that our community and our nation will eventually rise to overcome the desperate challenge that we now face.

Yet that short-term victory (in all probability, one filled with painful compromise) will not be the end of this challenge. The more fundamental struggle, to be waged in the hearts and minds of 308 million Americans, is just beginning.

Those Tea-Party Republicans in the House of Representatives are gasping from the growing federal debt. They may be surprised to learn that so am I. Yet I also ask them this basic question: With the greatest economy in the world, why can’t America’s elected representatives find the resources needed to accomplish our practical (and moral) national imperatives?

I ask this because I represent a community that has not lost its conscience. I represent a community that understands a basic truth about life in our country. The most crippling segregation of all is the segregation from hope that is the inevitable consequence of unrelieved poverty.

We must organize and work together to convince our countrymen and women of the wisdom and justice of our cause – or we must relegate our children to the evolving economic serfdom of our time.

This struggle is about what kind of America we are determined to create.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.