WASHINGTON, April 5 (RNS) -- After weathering an unexpected blow from theU.S. Senate, President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal stood inthe cross hairs of an interfaith coalition that denounced the plan as"irresponsible" Thursday.

"A society is judged by how it treats its people, not by how low itstaxes are," Sister Anne Curtis of NETWORK, a national Catholicsocial justice advocacy group, said at a news conference. "People, not taxes,should be the center of our economic priorities."

The challenge from the Religious Community for Responsible TaxPolicy followed a Senate vote Wednesday to gouge $450 billionout of Bush's tax cut plans, leaving roughly $1.1 trillion in tax cutsin Bush's budget proposal for the 2002 fiscal year.

The 53-47 vote was a surprise jab at a measure that had a smootherride through the Republican-dominated House. Supporters of the reductionhope to apply that $450 billion toward the nation's schools and payingoff the national debt.

Two alternative proposals have gained some support among senators.

One would reduce proposed tax cuts to about $1.2 trillion during thenext 10 years, while another, supported by most Democrats, would provide$740 billion in tax cuts within the same time period. The Senate isexpected to make a final decision about Bush's budget proposal Friday.

The interfaith group blasted Bush for "irresponsible" tax policies,accusing him of focusing on tax benefits for the wealthy whileneglecting low- and moderate-income people.

"Responsible tax policy should be structured so that the pooresthouseholds benefit," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of theNational Council of Churches, reading a statement from the group. Bushshould establish a refundable child tax credit "so that all families whoare too poor to owe income taxes but pay other federal taxes may receivea credit," he said.

The Rev. George Regas, president of the Regas Institute inCalifornia, accused Bush of neglecting children from low-income familiesand charged the president with "hijacking" the Children's Defense Fundslogan "Leave No Child Behind" during his presidential campaign.

"I wonder has Bush closed his eyes to the kind of society we havefor children in America," Regas said. "President Bush proposes to cutthe already modest funding for child-care assistance for low-incomefamilies as well as funding for programs to train doctors in childhealth care. Is that what it means to leave no child behind?"

That children live in poverty in the United States "is a moralscandal," Regas declared.

"We need to talk about moral scandals in this country that have lessto do with sexual practices and more to do with the government'spolicies toward children," he said. "It is a moral scandal that in thiscountry with the largest period of prosperity in history we could notfind a way to put into place those policies that would take children outof poverty."

The coalition predicted a gloomy future for social programs ifBush's projected budget surplus fails to materialize.

"If the surpluses do not materialize as projected, a huge tax cutthat is passed this year would require spending cuts in publiceducation, health care, Social Security, Medicare, economic development,poverty, homelessness and international development assistance for thenext decade and beyond," said Edgar, a former Democratic congressman."Those are the very programs in which our nation should invest."

He added, "There is no surplus as long as children are living inpoverty."

The coalition applauded Bush's intention to allow tax deductions forcharitable contributions, but cautioned that charitable contributionsshould not be expected to replace government investment.

The Bush administration should "be investing in initiatives that ...will help us realize the biblical vision `there shall be no needy amongyou,"' said Mark J. Pelavin, associate director of the Religious ActionCenter of Reform Judaism.

"Caring for the poor, and advocating for the fair and equitabletreatment of all, are more than American values. For people of faith,these are sacred responsibilities," he said. "The more closely we lookat these proposed tax cuts, the more clearly we see that they wouldcontradict the mandates of our common moral heritage and would gravelydamage the well-being of so many who are struggling to survive in ourcountry today."

Among those who signed the coalition's statement were the Rev.Clifton Kirkpatrick of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rabbi Eric H.Yoffie of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Rev. H. GeorgeAnderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and BishopMelvin G. Talbert of the United Methodist Church.

A similar declaration urging Bush to include more tax benefits forlow-income people has been issued by Evangelicals for Social Action.

"President Bush's proposal is blatantly unjust," said the group'spresident, Ron Sider. "A proposal that gives 40 percent of a huge taxcut to the richest 1 percent and only 4 percent to the bottom 40 percentis simply wrong."

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