Bishops to Congress: Decrease military spending and focus on the poor

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Decrease military spending and help the poor, said the U.S. bishops in a May 19 letter addressed to Congress, before lawmakers prepare to work on the federal budget for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.

The budget requires difficult decisions, but lawmakers must "give central importance to 'the least of these,'" said the letter sent to all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and signed by the chairmen of six USCCB committees.

The letter urged lawmakers to "promote the welfare of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity."

Increasing funding for defense and immigration enforcement while cutting "many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling," said the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, and Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

Respectively, they chair the bishops' committees on pro-life activities, international policy, communications, domestic policy, Catholic education and migration.

Decisions should be "guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity," said the bishops in the letter, and making deep cuts to programs that help the poor "would harm people facing dire circumstances."

"When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker," the bishops said in the letter.

An early budget proposal unveiled in March by President Donald Trump's administration called for a $54 billion increase in military spending and cutting nonmilitary programs by an equal amount. The proposal also asked for more money for immigration enforcement, while seeking deep cuts in social safety-net programs as well as environmental programs and dramatically reducing funding for the State Department and its foreign aid programs.

The early draft of Trump's proposed budget, called the "skinny budget" because of its drastic proposed cuts to certain departments, included slashing by 37 percent the $50 billion budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. Both departments have anti-poverty programs to help foster democratic societies abroad.

"It is hard to reconcile the need for diplomacy and political solutions with significant cuts to the State Department budget," they said.

The bishops said in the letter that diplomacy and international development are "primary tools" for peace, regional stability and human rights and lawmakers should "not adopt deep cuts to these budgets." As it is, the U.S. spends more than any other country on military and its spending is about a third of worldwide military spending, the bishops said.

"Our nation continues to increase spending on nuclear weapons, despite the moral imperative to verifiably disarm from this class of indiscriminate weapons," they said. "Military force should only be employed in a just cause as a last resort within strict moral limits of proportionality, discrimination and probability of success."

Although there isn't enough money to fund everything, spending money elsewhere, or saving money in the budget shouldn't be done by cutting health care, nutrition or other anti-poverty programs, the bishops said.

"The human consequences of budget choices are clear to us as pastors," they said, calling the federal budget "a moral document with profound implications for the common good of our nation and world."

"Our Catholic community defends the unborn and the undocumented, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad," their letter said. "We help mothers facing challenging situations of pregnancy, poor families rising above crushing poverty, refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines."

And in that fight, "we are partners with government," they said, adding that church institutions around the world help the most marginalized of communities.

"The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates," the bishops said. "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good."

It's unclear when Congress will take up talks on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Both parties expressed criticism of the president's initial proposal. The White House said it would release a full budget for the 2018 fiscal year May 23, while Trump is away on his first foreign trip as president and a day before he meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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