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.