As congressional Republicans push forward a massive tax cut package that could see tax hikes for the poor and middle class alongside tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Catholic bishops have again condemned measures that they say could harm the poor.
Saying that bishops do not propose specific tax policy, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., said Tuesday that they “are advocating for the poor.” The chairman of the bishops’ committee on domestic justice was speaking during a press conference in Baltimore, part of the bishops’ annual fall meeting.
Bishop Frank Dewane said Tuesday that the bishops “are advocating for the poor.”
He said he worried that the tax bill would put in jeopardy “some of the safety net programs that help the poor,” saying that the tax cuts, which are expected to drive up the federal deficit, will eventually lead to reductions in social services.
During an address to the full body of bishops, Bishop DeWane highlighted three areas his committee was focused on: health care, the federal budget and tax cuts. He urged his brother bishops to contact lawmakers personally to advocate for issues related to all three, echoing statements made on Monday during a session on immigration issues from Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort-Worth. Bishop Olson said individual bishops should be more proactive with their own lawmakers, telling the group, “We have to contact our own representatives by phone, by email.”
Bishop Dewane said a “particularly painful” aspect of the G.O.P.-backed plan in the House were tax increases that “will hit the poor very hard” in the coming years.
“No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits for wealthy citizens.”
“No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits for wealthy citizens,” he said, quoting a letter the U.S.C.C.B. wrote to lawmakers earlier this fall.
While praising a provision that doubles the standard deduction, which would result in a smaller tax bill for Americans who do not itemize their deductions, Bishop Dewane said that bishops worry that the measure will harm charitable giving in the United States.
Experts say that the total amount of individual giving to charities could drop by close to $5 billion with changes to the tax code, which could devastate organizations serving the poor—including many affiliated with the Catholic Church.
“The House bill will have a dramatic impact on charitable giving,” Bishop Dewane said, adding that it would amount to a “disincentive to giving,” which he said would “hurt groups that will be asked to do more for the poor in the days ahead.”
Bishop Dewane: Tax bill would “hurt groups that will be asked to do more for the poor in the days ahead.”
Responding to Bishop Dewane’s presentation, Bishop Michael Bransfield, who heads the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.V., called charitable giving “a very important part of our culture,” adding that “there’s a very educated Catholic class that uses it.” He said removing incentives to spur donations “will really hurt us.”
Part of the House plan includes an eventual repeal of the estate tax. On Wednesday, the left-leaning Center for American Progress released a study suggesting that charitable giving would also suffer because of this provision. It estimates that by 2024 religious organizations might lose out on nearly $2.5 billion from donations left through wills.
House Republicans are expected to vote on their bill as early as Thursday.
Bishop Michael Bransfield said removing incentives to spur donations “will really hurt us.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is considering a separate bill that could repeal a key part of the Affordable Care Act that requires Americans to buy health insurance.
Erasing the A.C.A.’s individual mandate provided Republicans with more money, which they used to make some tax breaks modestly more generous. But it raised questions about whether it might prompt some moderate GOP senators to back away from the measure.
Both the U.S.C.C.B. and the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals in the United States, have opposed efforts to roll back Obamacare without ensuring that poor and middle-income Americans would be able to keep access to insurance.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that dismantling the requirement would mean 4 million additional uninsured people by 2019 and 13 million more by 2027. Worries about leaving more people without coverage were among the reasons GOP attempts to outright repeal much of President Barack Obama’s law crashed in the Senate this summer.
On Wednesday, the Catholic Health Association tweeted a message urging its followers to contact senators to “ask them to oppose any legislation that includes an individual mandate repeal.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.