Seeking the Kindest Cuts of All

Rumors of a budget deal scattered about Washington today only to be denied by officials from the Obama administration and Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office—just the latest development in the high-stakes “don’t call my bluff” poker game that has transfixed the nation. Trial ballooned packages that would allow an increase to the nation’s$14 trillion debt ceiling as part of a comprehensive plan to address the nation’s mounting debt crowd the capital’s skyline. “What me worry” tea partiers downplay the dangers of a default, demanding massive government spending cuts and a constitutional balanced budget amendment before they will even consider raising the nation’s debt ceiling by the August 2 deadline. Meanwhile a presumably moderate plan has emerged from the congressional “Gang of Six,” even as dead-enders in the Republican party court an unprecedented sovereign debt default.

There has been much talk about protecting “job creators” and saving the middle class, but very little has been heard about how the nation’s growing population of poor and unemployed will fare by the end of the budget negotiations. “Washington is talking about almost everything except about how these decisions will affect the poor,” said John Carr, the Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.


An unusual coalition of leaders from most of the nation’s major Christian denominations met with President Obama yesterday to return some visibility to the plight of the nation’s poor and vulnerable as the budget talks drag on. In an effort to protect social services and foreign aid programs they argue should be non-negotiables, the members of the “Circle of Protection” have for weeks highlighted the likely real world collateral damage of the democratic/republican budget wars.

A delegation from the group went to the White House Wednesday afternoon where they petitioned the president to remember the poor and joined him in prayer. According to one member of the delegation, the president seemed moved by the experience and deeply concerned about some of the potential hardships that could emerge in a budget deal. He was specifically concerned about the impact on Medicaid and foreign aid programs. One pastor who attended the meeting said the president assured the group that he would remember “the least of these” as negotiations continue, in an apparent reference to Matthew 25.

After the White House meeting, Galen Carey, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals said, “We clearly understood from the president’s remarks he is aware of these issues and is concerned with the outcome on the poor.” He said, “Our challenge to him was to use his rhetorical gifts to explain to Americans why it was so important … that we protect poor people as we get our fiscal house in order.”

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-facilitator of National African American Clergy Network, said she has never before participated in such a diverse and broad coalition. “That fact was not lost on the president or his team,” she said.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of La Cruces, New Mexico, a member of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told the president that the bishops’ conference met with him “not to advance any particular plan, but to focus on the final moral principal that we should place the poor first in allocation of our nation’s scarce financial resources.”

Bishop Ramirez said, “We’re not interested in which party wins the current political battles. We are worried about who are likely to lose …. the hungry, the sick and the hopeless, not only in our country but around the world.”

Ramirez added that there were many “givens” in the current discussion. Republicans say no new taxes are their given; democrats aim to protect the middle class. “Sadly, if you listen to the debate, protecting the poor and vulnerable is not a given,” the bishop said. “They have no powerful lobbyists, but they do have a powerful moral claim. . . I told [President Obama] that [recognizing this claim] will be the fundamental moral measure of this process, his administration and our nation.”

One time Congressman and U.N. Ambassador Tony Hall said he was very worried that humanitarian aid programs have been targeted by budget hawks. “These kinds of program are in serious jeopardy,” he said. “Members of Congress can write them off, and they won’t suffer when it comes to election time. That will cost lives there’s no question about it.” What cutting humanitarian assistance programs won’t do, he said, was save a lot of money. Even as Hall spoke the United Nations was officially declaring a famine in two regions of Somalia and issuing an appeal for emergency aid.

“These programs save lives,” Hall said.

Other members of the delegation said they were likewise concerned about possible cuts to domestic programs such as nutrition supports, retraining for the unemployed and above all health care to the poor. But has their appeal been issued too late in the process? Sojourner’s Jim Wallis didn’t think so. “This [negotiation] is a moving target,” he said. In the past, Wallis said, means-tested programs have been protected from budget cuts. He thinks the same could still be true today. “Sometimes we have reduced poverty and the deficit at the same time,” Wallis added.

The U.S.C.C.B.’s Carr said the members of the Circle of Protection would continue to press members of Congress and the administration to remember the demands of scripture and the nation’s and world’s poor and vulnerable people. He said the group has already met with G.O.P. budget maven Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. He described the confidential discussion as “substantial and constructive.”

“We made the same case with him as we made with the president,” said Carr, who said he was “very encouraged” by the meeting with Ryan. The coalition also hopes to me with Speaker Boehner and Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Members of the delegation said they remain hopeful that, despite the large figures in references to budget cuts being discussed, critical programs for the poor could be preserved. It all comes down to what is being cut, said Carey. “When we talk about cuts in Medicaid, that could mean reduction in payments to hospitals or people taken off the rolls altogether.” Likewise budget adjustments in agriculture could be made to cut subsidies to “rich farmers” or food stamps for the hungry. Bread for the World President the Rev. David Beckmann said, “Changing Congress depends on us all of us reaching out to congregations and parishes and Christian people [and to other faith traditions]. The members of Congress need to hear from us; they need to hear from home that there are people praying for the poor who want Congress to protect the poor.”

He said, “If we could get 10 percent of churchgoers to call Congress, the poor would not be at risk.”

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Liam Richardson
7 years 6 months ago
When it comes to the poor, Americans remain, culturally, latter day Puritans: if you're poor, it's a sign of predestination to damnation, in a fashion. The poor bother us so much we must keep them out of sight, hearing, speech and mind. (Unless it's a poor person we can identify with, as Someone Like Me.)
7 years 6 months ago
The poor are a false bargaining chip in all this.  I would bet that if a reasonable deal could be achieved with social security and medicare and other government spending, that programs for the poor which really are chump change in all this could be handled.  Obama will not propose anything to solve the spending problem less he be called on it, to use another poker term.  He can not solve the economic problem without admitting utter failure on his legislative folly.

So the poor are being held out as a bargaining chip to get re-elected.  There is no long term interest in the country or the poor by the Democrats.  They have accountants as well as the other side and know the projections.  They also now know that what they propose cannot grow the economy.  Instead they have put a straight jacket on the economy.   So I would blame the Democrats for the particular problem there is now in easing the burdens of the poor.  They essentially created the financial crisis that led to the high unemployment and stagnant economy.  They are a reprehensible bunch.

Our only hope is to find some Republican to win the presidency in 2012, elect a few more Republican senators, repeal Obamacare and the Dodd Frank bill and find a way to get money invested back in the US with a more friendly business evironment.  Financial growth is what will help the poor the most.
ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
GOP/TP House members claim they have a mandate from the 11/2010 election not to raise the debt limit. None of them can show a clip or video or sheet saying anything about the debt limit in the last election cycle. to use JR Cosgrove words "They are a reprehensible bunch'
Their new plan is to raise the debt limit just enough to run out just before the 2012 election. so they can do this IED bomb again ..A desperate attempt to win with whatever boogieman/woman candidate that can get their worthless nomination. Obama and the Democratic Senate will call the bluff. The Business GOP will be hurt the most in the  market swoon which will happen very quickly if not two days before 8-2-11. The cowards will reconvene and vote and the SS checks will be three days late, We will never hear about the Tea Party again in our Lifetime. "They are a reprehensible bunch'
7 years 6 months ago
I suggest anyone interested in deficits, check out the trend of the deficits till the Democrats took over in 2007. Congress writes the budget not the president.  And by the way Obama voted for every budget and the TARP funds.  He was also the biggest recipient of Fannie Mae funds, who is the primary cause of the Housing crisis and our subsequent financial crisis.  Oh, the second biggest recipient, Hillary Clinton.  By blaming everything on the previous administration or the mess he inherited Obama is probably the biggest hypocrite of the last 500 years.  He and his fellow travelers created the mess they do not know how to clean up.

Here is a graphical picture of the deficits for the last 12 years.

The first budget that the Pelosi Reed combo launched was the 2008 budget.  The 2007 budget was part of the last Republican controlled congress in 2006 and was headed toward zero deficit till the Democrats took over.  So raising the debt ceiling in 2006 was like comparing going 35 mph in a 30 mph zone to violent rape with a deadly weapon and say they are equally guilty. 

Yes, the Democrats are reprehensible. The Tea Party wants a reasonable spending approach that will save the country for our grandchildren and then they are called reprehensible.  I will go for the grandchildren any time and not the elderly who are sucking the system dry.  Enough is enough.  They have more money then they ever expected and better health care they ever dreamed of.  And they want more.  They and the public employees are draining the country dry.  

The poor could be solved in a nano second by taking a small percentage out of medicare and social security and public salaries.  Then a lot of desirable social programs could be funded.  But no these greedy people must be protected.  That is why the Democrat Party is in no way about social justice.  It is about a bankrupt ideology that screws the poor and no one who writes here seems to care.
ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
And I thought Cosgrove and Mattingly could produce a link to at least one TP/GOP member running Nov.2010 on NOT raising the debt limit. Instead Still giving  5 year old GOP talking points? It's two weeks to default folks.. your 401k will decline 25% at least. TARP has been paid back, Auto workers are working, health care is on the way .. and Mattingly suggests that the Seals should have given Osama a chance for a true Bush/Texan gun slinging  draw, out on some Pakistan street.  "reprehensible??' 
7 years 6 months ago
"There has been much talk about protecting “job creators” and saving the middle class, but very little has been heard about how the nation’s growing population of poor and unemployed will fare by the end of the budget negotiations."

THere has been such little talk about the poor because the problem is NOT spending on the poor, but the middle class entitlemts such as Medicare.  Until we reckon with the problems in reality, we won't have any solution.  Fortunately, the politicians are light years ahead of the religious groups discussed in this article.  Indeed, the radical right-wing plan so many here object to from Public Enemy Number 1 Paul Ryan includes provisions to means-test all social spending programs.  In other words, the program reforms are designed to PROTECT the poor and INCREASE spending on the poor.  Furthermore, as I understand it, the Gang of Six proposal would not make a single cut to social spending on the poor. 

Contrary to these facts, the religious leaders continue to waive concerns - as if somehow the modest suggest to streamline duplicative jobs programs into ONE single program somehow represents a fundamental violation of the social compact. 
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 6 months ago
Sounds like Mr. Cosgrove is about ready to become a euthanasia supporter wrt our ageing population.  I suspect Republicare will do as good a job.  Mr. Landry now makes the middle class into the bad guys.  All those working stiffs who expected a little break in the winter of life.  It seems anybody can become a bad guy when required to justify the conversion of our country into a mesoamerican oligarchy.

I'm sure a lot of people are willing to give up things for the benefit of the common good.  But the agenda most purely represented by the Republicans is advanced best in an atmosphere of economic panic and mutual distrust and hatred. Doesn't the word "diabolic" derive its meaning from division? 

And to ask for these sacrifices while our overblown military expenditures and the two useless wars aren't seriously on the table is outrageous and despicable.

As far as grandchildren are concerned, my advice is not to have them.  Their jobs will be in China and they will have reduced intelligence and birth defects from fracking fluid in the water supply. 
7 years 6 months ago
Mr. Kopacz,

I think you owe me an apology.  How is anything I said indicating that I would support any form of euthanasia.  Maybe you do not understand the economics of social security or medicare but because you do not, it does not mean that someone who wants to limit what anyone receives is not recommending euthansia or anything close to it.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 6 months ago
I owe no one anything, especially you, Mr. Cosgrove.  If anyone owes an apology, you do, not to me, but to that generation now passing away, the one that defeated Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.  Sucking the life out, indeed.  If you're not talking about them, then be more specific with your hyperbole.
Vince Killoran
7 years 6 months ago
GOP=Socialize the risk, privitize the wealth.

Time to pry some of that mountain of money from the super rich and get the economy working.
7 years 6 months ago
Mr. Kopacz,

Yes, you do owe an apology.  You are distorting positions and apparently have no ideas on the economic consequces of what the Democrats defend.  Not one thing recommended by Republicans would affect the generation you listed.  What is at stake is the late baby boomers who as I understand were not alive when Hitler and Tojo were defeated. 

So first you distort the argument, and then accuse someone who probably has it right of recommending euthanasia,  That is not a very Catholic attitude. Maybe my position is the more Chritian position as it may provide more services than the alternative.  The current situation cannot persist so unless something is done, any form of medicare in the future may be just faint memory of the past.  It just does not appear out of nowhere.  There has to be people working to fund what ever is feasible.

Yes, you owe an apology.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 5 months ago
As I said before, you said the elderly are sucking the life out.  A blanket and extreme vilification.  I met your hyperbole with hyperbole.  Live with it.
Liam Richardson
7 years 6 months ago
Just like someone who doesn't work hard to make abortion illegal doesn't mean they are recommending it or anything close to it, right.


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