Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Senior Editor and Training Coordinator, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.
In response to today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, Faith in Public Life executive director Rev. Jennifer Butler issued the following statement:
The Supreme Court did the right thing for American families by upholding the Affordable Care Act. Faith leaders worked tirelessly to pass this legislation because ensuring that all Americans have quality, affordable healthcare is a moral responsibility. The religious right needs to halt their misguided campaign to repeal this law. Human life is too sacred to be jeopardized by partisan crusades.
When Paul Ryan spoke at Georgetown last week, he made a point to acknowledge the letter sent to him by over 90 faculty members criticizing his use of Catholic social teaching to justify his budget. In response, he noted that he also brought a copy of his budget “so that we can have a fact-based conversation on the facts as they are, not — as I would say — as some have reinterpreted it [sic].”
This defense was just one part of a multipronged retort to his critics. Ryan also penned an op-ed defending his budget in the friendly pages of the National Catholic Register. Unfortunately, in addition to offering his usual highly selective doctrinal arguments, Ryan’s essay contains numerous claims that fail to live up to his aspiration of a “fact-based conversation.” Here’s just a few of the many misleading claims that caught my eye:
“The debt is weighing on job creation today.”
Au contraire. The primary drags on job growth right now are weak demand and public-employee layoffs caused by government budget cuts. I suppose Ryan’s argument here is a little too vague to dismiss altogether, but the primary way debt retards growth and jobs is by forcing up interest rates. That’s just not happening right now.
“As a result, more and more of society’s most vulnerable remain mired in public-assistance programs whose outdated structures often act as a trap that hinders upward mobility.”
Although Ryan doesn’t name specific programs here, it’s safe to assume he’s talking about ones he intends to slash, such as food stamps and Medicaid. However, neither of theseprograms fit Ryan’s description. I’m curious about how Ryan thinks making food and healthcare unaffordable for the working poor, children, seniors and the unemployed increase their upward mobility? Hunger and sickness aren’t exactly conducive to success.
“For example, in a misapplication of solidarity, politicians in both parties expanded big government for decades. These policies have had dismal results. One out of every six people in the United States is now living below the poverty level — the largest number of poor people on record.”
Clever, but mendacious. If you’re going to argue that “big government” is the reason 1-in-6 Americans is in poverty, offer some credible evidence. If anything, “small government” ideology – as manifested in laying off public employees instead of raising new revenues, Wall Street deregulation that led to the economic crisis, and blocking economic stimulus such as the American Jobs Act – is what’s yielded “dismal results.”
“Our budget builds on the successful welfare reforms of the 1990s, using federal subsidium to empower state and local governments, communities and individuals — those closest to the problems of society.”
Wrong again. As Ed Kilgore deftly pointed out, Ryan’s budget cuts are completely different than welfare reform. Leaving aside the long-term failure of welfare reform for a moment, at least that program replaced one form of assistance (AFDC) with another (TANF and expansion of food stamps). By simply slashing protections for the poor, Ryan is replacing something with nothing.
“President Barack Obama’s health-care law puts a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare. This is wrong. I do not believe we should turn the fate of our parents and grandparents over to an unaccountable board and let it make decisions that could deny them access to their care.”
This one’s just a plain old lie. The Independent Payment Advisory Board, which Ryan is referring to here, explicitly does not have the power to cut Medicare. It can only make recommendations, which Congress either accepts or rejects. This distortion is merely a gentler version of the “death panels” attack on the IPAB during of the health care debate.
“Our budget has been criticized for giving tax cuts to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. It does no such thing.”
“But revenue would still rise every year under our budget because our economy grows and because our budget proposes to eliminate special-interest loopholes that go primarily to the influential and well-off.”
Shenanigans. Ryan refuses to say which of these loopholes he’d close and explicitly rejects closing the preferential tax rates on capital gains and dividends, which allow people like Mitt Romney and Warren Buffett to pay lower taxes than I do.
In addition to all he does say about the debt, Ryan continues his pattern of omitting the significant role the Bush tax cuts have played in ballooning the deficit and the debt. Ryan’s consistent silence on this amounts to simply pretending these budget-busting, 1%-centric tax cuts didn’t happen, and his failure to even entertain the possibility of increasing revenues shows that he isn’t serious about responsibly addressing the debt. Rather, he’s serious about using the debt as an excuse to enact a radical agenda that brings more money for the richest Americans, more suffering for the poor, and less security for the middle class. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Ryan is treated as such a morally serious leader.
Yesterday the US Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned some of the GOP’s immoral budget cuts to programs protecting struggling families. Today House Speaker John Boehner responded with predictably dishonest spin:
“I want them to take a bigger look,” Boehner said. “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.”
Boehner gave a detailed defense of the GOP plan, which to achieve most of its savings would cut billions from programs helping poor Americans.
“What’s more of a concern to me is the fact that if we don’t begin to make some decisions about getting our fiscal house in order, there won’t be a safety net,” Boehner said.
“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.”
Absent from Boehner’s response is acknowledgement of debt-reduction policy options other than gutting the safety net, such as raising revenues or reining in military spending – both of which the Catholic bishops have mentioned as critical elements of a morally responsible debt-reduction plan.
Boehner seems to be telling the bishops we face an inescapable choice between slashing the safety net now and decimating it later. He knows it’s a losing argument to claim that tax breaks for rich people are more important than programs that feed poor children, so he simply pretends the possibility of ending those tax breaks doesn’t exist.
The Ryan budget gave Boehner a clear choice between the social teachings of his Catholic faith and the radical values of Ayn Rand. By voting yes he chose the latter. He should spare us his crocodile tears about the poor.
The drumbeat is building. Last week 59 Catholic theologians and social justice leaders rebuked Rep. Paul Ryan for arguing that his federal budget plan is consistent with Catholic social teaching. Today the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called out House Republicans for making harmful cuts that flout church teaching about protecting poor and vulnerable people. The Hill’s Jonathan Easley has the story:
In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”
A second letter sent Tuesday to the Ways and Means Committee criticizes a provision that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The Bishops called the credit “one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation.”
In their letter, the bishops urged lawmakers to reject “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition” programs for “moral and human reasons.” They said spending cuts should instead be made to subsidy programs that “disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness.”
Lawmakers should “protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises,” said the letter, signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire.
“Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”
This is a strong step toward holding lawmakers accountable for aggressively pushing a budget that brings more suffering for the poor, less security for the middle class, and more money for the richest Americans – especially in light of Rep. Paul Ryan’s attempt to justify this agenda on Catholic theological grounds.
It’s crucial for prominent leaders such as the bishops to speak out against this cruel, cowardly vision. As church leaders have demonstrated on other issues, they are capable of exerting considerable political pressure. Hopefully today’s letters to Congress presage a forceful campaign to rebuke the GOP’s immoral budget priorities.
This post has been updated to reflect an update of Easley’s story.
I was kind of shocked last week when Richard Land spoke at the Q Conference about the importance of civility in politics and public debates. Less than two weeks earlier he called leaders protesting the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s killing “race-hustlers” who were ginning up outrage to turn out the black vote, and accused President Obama of “pouring gasoline on the racialist fires” by addressing the controversy. Worse, Land inaccurately alleged that civil-rights leaders don’t protest black-on-black violence.
His comments exemplified many flavors of the cynicism and incivility that plague our discourse: racially coded language; false accusations; impugning other people’s motives; accusing others of divisiveness while engaging in it yourself; plain old name-calling. Perhaps this shouldn’t be that surprising, though, since Land apparently lifted his remarks rather directly from a right-wing columnist (without giving any credit).
Fortunately, Land is facing pushback from fellow Southern Baptist Convention leaders. The AP has the story:
Last year, the denomination for the first time elected a black pastor to its No. 2 position of first vice president, and the Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s annual meeting in June.
When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, “It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.”
“I think his (Land’s) statements will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter,” said the Rev. Dwight McKissic, a black pastor at the SBC-affiliated Cornerstone Baptist Church is Arlington, Texas.
McKissic said he plans to submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.
“If they don’t, we’re back to where we were 50 years ago,” he said.
Jonathan Merritt, a white Southern Baptist minister whose book, “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars” is due out this month, said Land’s comments turn off not only minorities, but also many young believers who are “disappointed with culture war Christianity and want to move beyond name-calling.”
Establishing civility across ideological divides is a difficult endeavor. It would be a lot easier if Land didn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth.
UPDATE: In an interview with USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman late yesterday afternoon, Land attempted to explain his failure to attribute his remarks to the columnist whose work he copied, and offered an apology of sorts for his remarks:
I obviously overestimated the extent of progress that has been made in slaying the racial dragon of our past. I should have remembered that whenever we have a discussion about race, the ghosts of our ancestors are in the room with us. And I underestimated the need to be extremely careful in how you address any controversial issue that involves race as a factor.
I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962.
I certainly apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended by my remarks.
While Land deserves some credit for trying to close the wound, his apology is incomplete. Rather than taking responsibility for his mean-spirited name-calling and accusations of ill intent, Land merely regrets being insufficiently sensitive to the feelings of those who are offended. Land wasn’t just tone-deaf though, he was actively accusing others of rank cynicism. But the most important part of an apology is whether it’s backed up with improved behavior. If Land refrains from such ugly rhetoric in the future, our discourse will be better off and he’ll deserve commendation.