Catholic Leaders Challenge Obama, Congress to Protect Poor in Debt Talks

National Catholic social justice leaders and theologians are urging President Obama and Congressional leaders to show leadership and moral vision in the face of political pressure to cut spending by slashing vital safety net programs. A statement released July 13 read in part: “As Catholic leaders and academics who believe government has a vital role in serving the common good, we are deeply concerned that President Obama and Republican leaders will strike a budget compromise that sacrifices the poor and most vulnerable on the altar of deficit reduction.”

While noting that addressing the nation’s annual deficits and growing debt was imperative, the statement concludes: “The crisis is the result of unsustainable tax cuts, deficit funding of two wars, and the financial crisis. In this context it is gravely immoral to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and poor by slashing Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other bedrock safety net programs that support pregnant mothers and infants.”

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The document was signed by notable Catholic advocates and academics, including Sr. Simone Campbell, S.S.S., Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; the Rev. T. Michael McNulty, S.J., of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Sr. Marie Lucey, O.S.F., Associate Director for Social Mission Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and many others (full disclosure: the document was also signed by Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., America’s Editor in Chief).

The statement continues: “We are compelled speak out to ensure that political leaders do not forsake those who have no voice, especially when political pressure mounts. Faced with irresponsible and reckless calls from Republicans to dismantle our nation’s safety net, the President must now demonstrate the leadership and moral vision necessary to reject false choices. In years past, political leaders from both parties have reduced the deficit without hurting our must vulnerable neighbors and increasing poverty. We must do so again.

“We join together with Christian clergy and Jewish leaders across the country who have endorsed the 'Circle of Protection.' Standing up for those on the margins is rarely politically convenient, but President Obama and Republican leaders now have an historic opportunity to renew our nation’s faith in government that serves the common good.”

Commenting on the statement, NETWORK’s Simone Campbell said, “As Republican leaders refuse to compromise on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, President Obama needs to do what’s morally right, not what’s politically expedient in Washington.

“Religious leaders and people of faith who have supported many of the president’s efforts on behalf of the common good will not accept cuts to life-saving programs for seniors, pregnant mothers and hungry children as if these vulnerable Americans caused our nation’s deficit,” Campbell said. “Now is the time for the president to stand firm and continue to show leadership and moral vision.”

“President Obama now has an opportunity to use his bully pulpit and lay down some clear lines,” said Stephen F. Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. “Any deficit reduction deal that cuts Social Security and Medicaid is a betrayal of values that make our nation great. We can be more fiscally responsible without hurting those the Gospels compels us to protect.”

 

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