Busy bishops call for shared sacrifice on budget

The U.S. Bishops had a busy day. In addition to the announcement regarding the CDF's plan for the reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and encouraging the United States to end the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba, the bishops endured a return scolding from House Speaker John Boehner. A series of letters the bishops released yesterday criticized plans for budget cutting that relied too heavily on reductions in social needs spending as Congress began working on the FY 2013 budget and spending bills this week.

Boehner responded quickly. “I want them to take a bigger look,” he said at a Wednesday press conference. “And the bigger look is, if we don't make decisions, these programs won't exist, and then they'll really have something to worry about.... There won't be these programs, and I don't know how often some of us have to talk about the fact that you can't spend $1.3 trillion more than what you bring in — that's what's going to happen this year, $5 trillion worth of debt over the last five years — and think that this can continue,” Boehner said. “When you look at the fact that we have to make hard decisions, it's about trying to make sure that we're able to preserve these programs that are critically important for the poorest in our society.”


The bishops have suggested that truly hard decisions include reassessing defense spending and seeking new federal tax revenue before cutting social spending like school lunches and food stamps. The bishops yesterday reiterated a call to "create a 'circle of protection' around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity." In a volley of letters to Congress, Bishops Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, and Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairmen of the Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, respectively, urged Congress to resist proposed cuts in hunger and nutrition programs at home and abroad saying that “a just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons.”

On April 4, Bishop Blaire cautioned that “at a time when the need for assistance from [affordable housing] programs is growing, cutting funds for them could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.”  

The bishops called for "just solutions" that "require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs."

In April 16 and April 17 letters to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee addressing cuts required by the budget resolution, Bishop Blaire said “The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.” Bishop Blaire also wrote that cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP- food stamps) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) will hurt hungry children, poor families, low-income workers and other vulnerable people. Additionally, he wrote that if cuts to the federal budget need to be made, savings should first be found in programs that target more affluent and powerful interests.

Bishops Blaire and Pates reaffirmed the “moral criteria to guide these difficult budget decisions” outlined in a previous letter on budget priorities on March 6 budget: 

1.Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

2.A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

3.Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

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J Cosgrove
5 years 11 months ago
It would be helpful when discussing budget decisions if actual numbers are used, whether proposed or actual and compared to past years.  That way we can evaluate just how much the budget cuts are if in fact there are cuts.  Till that time, it is all rhetoric from both sides.  We should try to get the numbers from Mr. Boehner's office.  Maybe Mr. Clarke could push for that.   After all Boehner is a graduate of Xavier and a Catholic and America might have some influence.
Tim Carey
5 years 11 months ago
At last I read about the Bishops' insistence that budgets be moral - and they wrote letters to Congress about it!  I was afraid that Cardinal Bernadin's call for a Consistent Ethic of Life was a thing of the past with our current leadership.
Tim Carey
5 years 11 months ago
John Barbieri
5 years 11 months ago
Tim Carey's post (Number 4) is right on!
Jim McCrea
5 years 11 months ago
The Boner:  just another cafeteria prudential tighty-righty faux Catholic.
Tom Maher
5 years 11 months ago
House Speaker is right to remind the public and the Bishops of the exterme immeadiate danger in the massive 1.5 trillion dollar annual increases in our national debt due to out of control governemnt spending.  This year the national debt has become larger than the Gross Domestic Product of all goods and services produced annually in the United States.  The IMF has warned that this level of debt to GDP is dangerous in that it is not possible to sustain a level of debt more than a nations entire economy.  The IMF recommends decreases in spending to stop the accumulation of debt and debt reduction to bring the national debt down to no more than 60% of our GDP. 

The shared sacrifice approach recommended by the Bishops is not technically viable and fails to address the need to stop the accumualtion of debt and debt reduction.  Without debt reduction the United States will fall into a debt trap like the six nations of western Europe who in the last two years are no longer able to finance themselve without large bailouts from other nations of the Euro-zone. In return these bailed out nations must drastically cut all governmednt payments across the board at a 30% to 50%  level impacting salaries, pensions and all social assistance programs, an extremely painfail and difficult process that could politcally desatbilize these nations.   These cutbacks will continue indefinately likely taking more than a decade until the size of their national debt is reduced relative to the size of their economy.  This debt trap of too much national debt must be avoided by the United States by reducing government spending that makes a national debt larger than an entire national economy.  At this scale it is not possible to tax your way out of indebtness since the debt is more massive than the entire economy and further interest on the massive debt must be paid to remain solvent. 

The Bishops need to update their thinking to recognize the dire economic hazard and impact of the out-of-control national debt accumulation that is unsustainable.  
Mike Evans
5 years 11 months ago
The bishops need to continue this pressure with even more specific statements, especially against more cuts to food stamps, unemployment, job training, education, and basic welfare allowances including cut-backs in eligibility criteria. The are POLICY issues not so much economic issues. Meanwhile, the continued free pass given to the uber rich, to corporate off shore activities, to preferred treatment of capital gains and special tax subsidies are to be examined in terms of 'shared sacrifice.' Perhaps the Repubs might even face threats of excommunication for their obvious intransigence to the preferential option for the poor, scripture and centuries of church teaching.
Carlos Orozco
5 years 11 months ago
Emperor Obama and the Speaker should take a look at the defense budget. Is building the Death Star the next objective in the phony "War on Terror"?
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 11 months ago
SNAP cost 65 billion last year. The deficit was about 1.3 trillion. Canceling SNAP entirely would save 5% of the deficit.

The Child Tax Credit provides a maximum of $1000, children under 18 are about a quarter of a population of about 300 million. If every child under 18 was eligible for the CTC (They're not. Eligibility is phased out above a family income of $55K to zero above $130K.) canceling it would save about $75 billion, another 5-6% of the deficit.

These are laws which provide necessities of life for millions of American children. Even completely abolishing them would make a barely perceptible reduction in the deficit. This is not a "dire economic hazard" or a "difficult budget decision."
Mike Evans
5 years 11 months ago
Wonder what the LCWR would say in reply to Mr. Boehner...
Barbara Pellegrini
5 years 11 months ago
Of course as Catholics, our primary obligation is to attend to the rights of the poor, the sick and disenfranchised. If we are true Catholics, there is no "Well yes... BUT" in our hearts. It's a given. But how do we best express Christ's intent? Over the past months, I've noticed that the statements of the US Catholic bishops are getting very close to enaging in political action and even lobbying which could threaten the church with an investugaton of its 501(c)(3) not-for-profit IRS status. Bishops are now in a political game. And yes, I realize that other religious groups are doing the same thing. Bishop Dolan has not been as savvy in his word-smithing as these situations would demand. He has spoken publically with an air of arrogant authority impiying that the teachings of the church are to be followed by ALL regardless of the right of non-Catholics to enjoy their rights to fredom of conscience and moral judgement. Ye Gads


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