The National Catholic Review
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Fiscal Countdown

Whatever happens in the days leading up to Aug. 2, the day when the United States will reach its approved debt limit, the tenor of the budget negotiations has been extremely dispiriting. What has been until now a routine matter of governance has developed into a no-holds-barred ideological battle. News that the Gang of Six senators is working on a bipartisan resolution is welcome, but it is still unclear whether they can convince Republicans in the House of Representatives to compromise.

The deficit is a matter of great concern, but Republican lawmakers have chosen the wrong moment to take a stand. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would only exacerbate the nation’s budget woes. Republican leaders in the House are pushing for a balanced budget amendment and drastic cuts in spending in exchange for a deal. More troubling, they refuse to consider any measure to raise revenue, even in the form of closing tax loopholes for high earners. So the poor, the marginalized and the sick—the primary victims of cuts in government spending—would be made to sacrifice while the affluent would escape additional tax burdens.

Simple fairness and a commitment to the common good demand a more equitable solution. A long-term budget-reduction plan must include an increase in revenue, not just a series of cuts. If necessary, this will require an increase in taxes, a measure in keeping with Catholic social teaching. The president has been unusually active in the budget negotiations, a welcome development, but he needs to exercise still greater moral leadership. A compelling case for shared sacrifice and the moral value of government has yet to be made.

Press Ethics

Reporters are privileged to be able to ask questions others cannot and to give a voice to those who have none. But there is a line between investigation and invasion of privacy, which the staff of the British tabloid The News of the World allegedly have crossed. They have been accused of hacking the phones of individuals ranging from a murdered teen to the families of fallen soldiers, as well as of bribing police officers and harassing politicians. The stories of corruption at the British publications owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation seem to multiply daily.

The scandal has prompted outcry from readers, politicians and journalists. Even the Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, has weighed in, calling for the establishment of “info-ethics” and for justice and “respect for the dignity of every human person.” Investigations are underway, and we hope they will lead to reform.

At its best, journalism produces stories that allow for a more free and informed society. Journalists should be uncovering scandals, not perpetrating them. In order to operate freely, the press must refrain from collusion with law enforcement or politicians. Bribes and back-room deals among these groups can result in the downfall of all three. Already there have been at least 10 arrests related to the hacking and several high-profile resignations, including those of two Scotland Yard officers; the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks; and Les Hinton, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Brooks claims that The News of the World is not the only newspaper to use unscrupulous methods of reporting. The depth of this scandal is not only indicative of corruption but of a willing and enthusiastic market for stories like these. Certainly the publications should take responsibility for their actions, but readers must take a closer look at their own participation as well.

A New Tone in Rome

In 2009 Cardinal Franc Rodé, C.M., the former prefect of the Vatican congregation for religious, announced a “visitation” of women’s religious orders in the United States convened in response to “concerns…about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general.” The reaction of American women religious ranged from confusion and wariness to alarm and resentment.

Since then, things have changed. Cardinal Rodé has retired, and his successor, Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz of Brazil, is quickly setting a new tone for the dicastery. In a recent interview, he acknowledged that the visitation had been met with “mistrust” and triggered “confrontation” between the congregation and some women’s orders. The archbishop expressed hope of proceeding in a different manner and remarked, “We have started to listen again.” Admit-ting that some problems await resolution, he is optimistic that this can be done “in another way” than in the past.

Archbishop Bráz also brings a compelling personal story. He grew up in a poor family, and his seminary education coincided with the rise of liberation theology. On his way to say Mass as a young priest, he was shot several times in crossfire from an armed robbery.

The effort to “rebuild a relationship of trust” with women religious is of the utmost importance. It will go a long way toward allaying the tension that has arisen between the Vatican and American women’s orders during the visitation. It may also draw appropriate attention to the invaluable work that religious women continue to do for the church in the United States.

Comments

LEONARD VILLA | 8/5/2011 - 8:53am
Unfortunate class warfare rhetoric in your editorial. The bottom line is we are broke. There has to be cuts in spending.  This President has increased the problem by his unrestrained spending and economic conditions are worse because you cannot spend yourself out of a recession.  What's hurting the poor is the attack on small businesses thereby crippling job growth.  What's hurting the poor is keeping them dependent on a large central government for their well-being.  Of course your editorial does not define "the wealthy."  Some facts that may have escaped you: the top 50% of wage earners pay 96% of the taxes. Almost half the country does not pay taxes.  You can't get to a situation where those who consume the wealth are greater than those who produce it.  How about investigating and cutting waste in all those programs allegedly designed to help the poor!
C Walter Mattingly | 8/3/2011 - 7:11am
Sorting through some of the above, starting with Mr Nunz's comment that the Bush era was an "unfettered era of greed."
Which of the following is an example of unfettered greed during the Bush administration:
-Spending many billions on the AIDS effort in Africa, saving 1.25 million Africans from certain death, being cited as having accomplished the greatest humanitarian good in the modern history of the nation by Bill Clinton as well as Africa's leaders?
-Providing prescription drug benefits for seniors?
-Greatly increasing expenditures on US public education?
-Cutting income taxes for lower income earners disproportionately larger than for higher income earners?
The facts are that President Bush was a liberal on economic spending on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. And he spent big on them too,increasing non-defense discretionary spending far more than his predecessor (65% vs 35%), his tax cuts as a percentage were skewed most toward the lower income earners. That is one reason that the average American, one of the highest average earners in the world, paid not a dime in income tax last year. It is also the reason, as Stockman pointed out, that the democrats are not serious about the deficit and taxes but rather are playing class envy politics by focusing only on the top earners: that would solve very little of the Bush tax cut income loss. Addressing the larger issue, those making over $80K or so and their cuts, might cost them votes rather than gain them class envy votes.
Tom asks for the real numbers on the growth of the debt. Here they are, by increase per president: Reagan, an increase of 1.67 trillion over his two terms. Clinton, an increase of 1.54 trillion over his two terms. Actually, Clinton's terms are two different tales: his first term, the deficit increased 1.12 trillion, a greater rate than Reagan's. Then, when Gingrich and the Contract with America came into play and reigned him in, it came down over 60% to 418 million. Because of Reagan's defense buildup (with the help of Thatcher and John Paul II) and the defeat of the Soviet empire, he cut defense spending all the way back to 3% (with not all good results, perhaps), and after his 2 vetoes finally approved "the end of welfare as we know it," removing over 5 million from the dole, most returning to taxpaying contributors rather than consumers of taxes. Even allowing for his arm being twisted to do what was right by the budget, he was far more the conservative on government spending than liberal spending George Bush.
Bush increased the deficit by 4.89 trillion over his two terms. As McCain, and even Cheney, pointed out, he was a big government-spending advocate. He "spent money like a drunken sailor." Yet we sometimes call the two wars the country joined Bush's Wars, or one as Bush's War and one as Obama's War. The fact is these were America's wars, as both wars were approved by the House and Senate. Only the current war with Libya can truly be called Obama's War, as he has violated the requirement that a war of this duration must be sent to the House and Senate to consider, this unlawful violation being the reason Dennis Kucinich called for President Obama's impeachment.
And of course President Obama in 1 year has almost matched the 8 year total deficit of Ronald Reagan and exceeded the 8 year deficit of Bill Clinton. Compare the way Obama handled the recession with that of Germany's Angela Merkel. They both pumped large amounts of money into the economy, but Merkel also cut spending drastically, including entitlement and welfare spending. In contrast Obama introduced a huge new entitlement health care program, offering smoke and mirror accounting bordering on dishonesty that it wouldn't cost more which no one believed, especially the markets, exactly the opposite of what assurances the market needed. Merkel's Germany recovered, not so Obama's US. He is well on his way to exceeding Bush's poor 8 year deficit record in 4 years. If Bush was a drunken sailor on the spending issue, Obama is a comatose sailor being supported by intravenous life support systems.

 
Craig McKee | 7/28/2011 - 9:12am
RODe's retirement will hopefully result in TOTAL TRANSPARENCY to the entire Visitation process. Or will we have to rely on Wikileaks to get the full story?
THOMAS MORIARTY | 7/27/2011 - 1:53pm
W/O looking up the numbers I believe under the Clinton Admin the national debt was dropping so rapidly that Econ journals were beginning to print studies addressing the problem how would the Federal Reserve manage the money supply w/o a national debt.  Of course while Clinton takes credit it was really the Republican congress that forced him into it.
Underr George W Bush we went into two wars + put into place a drug plan for Medicare, while at the same time cutting taxes.  I am not sure  but I think this is the first time in recorded history where the ruling powers went to war without a census or tax increases.  (Maybe one of you SJ's can research).  During his time the National debt went from 2 trillion +_/- to around 11 trillion +/-.  I think right now it is around 13 trillion.  A large segment of the current debt (and deficit) is due to the same issues, war, Medicare + reduced revenue due to the recession.
If anyone is seriously interested in the numbers you can go to the National Income and Product Accounts  (NIPA) now on the web, so no need to go to library stacks to find info.  Suggest you use the July issue since that issue contains all the corrections, and the final numbers for the third year previous.
An Hoa | 7/27/2011 - 12:15pm
You wrote, "If necessary, this will require an increase in taxes, a measure in keeping with Catholic social teaching. The president ... needs to exercise still greater moral leadership. A compelling case for shared sacrifice and the moral value of government has yet to be made."

Would the Catholic Church, led by the US Bishops, contribute to this leadership by speaking out for taxes, when necessary, as part of Catholic social teaching? That might be a prophetic voice. Without exercising our role in the world, there is no surprise that the Church becomes less relevant. Instead of TV ads to recruit people to the Church, why not act when the act is called for?
WILLIAM ATKINSON | 7/26/2011 - 5:31pm
Interesting is American financial woes,,,    Ought to read the Vatican finances for a real joking humor story....   At this stage in America, best we can do is watch, wait, laugh, joke, and just plain wonder...    It's like watching a falling tree, you can trim its branches, cut off its leaves, shore up its base, even tie it down for a while, but sooner or later she is gona come tumbling down, then you cut up the trunk, burn the remains, fill in the hole, and plant anew tree, a whoe and behold it all begins oe'r.....
James Collins | 7/26/2011 - 5:20pm
Mr. Nunz thinks the debt grew under President Bush. Yes it did but that increase is small compared to the last three years. Pres. Obama's budget for this year if carried forward would almost double today's debt in ten years. Pres. Bush was not soley responsible for that debt since he had a Democratic Congress and spending bills originate in the House. He thinks I am partisan, he should reread his writing.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 7/26/2011 - 10:30am

The comment that Mr. Colins males is so partisan, childish and unhelpful it's no wonder we are in this pickle today.


The national debt grew extradoinatily in the Bush years, as  afinancial crisis arose in that unfettered era of greed, and all we fet is fingerpointing at the presdent/


If this is what passes for thinking among the people of this Country, God help us!

Stephanie Wong | 7/26/2011 - 12:00am
I do hope that Archbishop Braz is able to maintain positive working relations with women's religious institutes here in the States.  Cardinal Rode somehow alienated an awful lot of communities, and it seems the Vatican realizes that it could have been handled better.
James Collins | 7/25/2011 - 2:09pm
President Obama has been spending like a drunken sailor and is responsible for the greatest increase in the national debt in our history. He refuses to cut spending and threatens to veto any measures which Congress proposes to pass. You are concerned with what will happen to the poor. So am I but the worst thing that can happen to them are the ruinous economic policies of the Obama administration. We MUST stop this spiraling debt. The only recourses the Republicans have is the debt ceiling leverage. Obama flip flops all over the place looking to get some political advantage out of it.
Cody Serra | 7/25/2011 - 1:17pm
I agree with Mike Evans comments.

However, I wonder where is the religious and responsible press at this time?

I believe it is necessary to get out and publish in secular media venues, widely read by many more people.
The articles may have to be carefully written to avoid the criticisms of mixing religion with politics and the separation of state and religion. I think it is an issue of moral standing supported by different religious groups and churches and by all kind of people, religious or not.
Mike Evans | 7/25/2011 - 11:59am
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If draconian cuts continue in federal, state and local budgets, only the churches and charitable institutions will be left standing to stem the tide of misery. The tea party folk and their republican allies must come to realize that dismantling society's safety net and repudiating effective programs that alleviate hunger, homelessness and poverty is an unconscionable act in a rich and diverse society which claims to be 'under God.' Perhaps a great outpouring of critical commentary from the religious and responsible media will convince them of the folly of this approach. We as a country can do much, much better.

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