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.
Paul Ryan is Catholic, and he seems to care what leaders of his church think about his federal budget priorities. Last year, he took the time to send then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan a detailed (yetshoddy) theological defense of his federal budget plan, which flouted Catholic social teaching on poverty, economic inequality and health care. Dolan’s response was so indirect and tepid that some in the media misconstrued it as an endorsement of Ryan’s proposal.
Fast-forward to 2012. Two weeks ago the US Conference of Catholic Bishops sent Congressional leadership a letter calling on Congress to put defense cuts on the table and to spare food stamps, health care, and other crucial protections from harmful budget cuts.
Yesterday, Ryan unveiled a federal budget plan that increased military spending, made explicit, draconian cuts to food stamps and Medicaid, and called for overall spending reductions that would necessitate gutting every domestic program that protects the vulnerable. He seems to have blown off their request altogether.
The bishops were wise to spell out clear moral priorities in advance of the budget’s release. Their voices are needed in this debate. I’m anxious to see how they respond to Ryan’s direct disregard of their counsel and Catholic social teaching. The contraception debate has shown that Church leaders are capable of mounting aggressive and formidable political efforts. Will they put as much political muscle into protecting the poor from devastating cuts as they’re putting into ensuring that Catholic Taco Bell owners can deny their employees coverage of contraception?
Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2013 federal budget proposal is the talk of the town in Washington today, and for good reason. As Greg Sargent pointed out this morning, the debate over Ryan’s plan will “…ultimately, force the American people to make a big choice between two starkly different sets of priorities and ideological roadmaps for the country’s future.”
Ryan seems to embrace this struggle, justifying his budget plan in moral terms. The crux of his argument is that we have a foreseeable, catastrophic debt crisis on the horizon, and that rejecting his solution represents an immoral dereliction of leadership. Here’s Ryan speaking at the American Enterprise Institute this morning:
Ryan seems to believe it’s morally necessary to gut protections for the poor and vulnerable right now in order to avoid gutting protections for the poor and vulnerable in the future.
What Ryan doesn’t address, though, is his own culpability in exploding the debt that he thinks necessitates these cuts. Let’s take a short walk down memory lane:
Ryan voted for Wall Street deregulation that led to the economic collapse of 2008, which exploded the debt and destroyed millions of jobs.
Ryan voted for tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that helped turn Clinton-era surpluses into huge Bush-era deficits and overwhelmingly benefited millionaires and billionaires.
Ryan voted for a Medicare prescription drug benefit that added almost $300 billion to the deficit and prohibited the government from negotiating withpharmaceutical companies for fairer prescription drug prices.
Ryan consistently voted for the deficit-financed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in addition to killing over 100,000 people added over $1 trillion to the debt.
Ryan is arguably as responsible as anyone in Washington for running up the national debt, yet he doesn’t hesitate to preach about the moral imperative to get behind his plan to solve the debt problem he helped create. Even if his plan were a serious solution instead of an Ayn Rand-inspired ideological agenda, Ryan would do well to repent of his own complicity in the debt before moralizing to the rest of us about it.
Public Religion Research Institute released the results a new poll today examining public opinion on the contraception coverage mandate, religious liberty and other related issues. The data are probably causing some discomfort for those desperately trying to frame the contraception debate as a “war on religion.” From PRRI’s press release:
On the heels of a months-long heated debate on religious liberty, a new national survey finds that a majority (56%) of Americans do NOT believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. Roughly 4-in-10 (39%) believe religious liberty is under attack.
The new PRRI-RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, allowed those who said religious liberty is under attack to explain in their own words why they felt the right of religious liberty is being threatened. Despite the recent heavy media focus on contraceptive coverage in the religious liberty debate, only 6% cited the contraception mandate issue. The most frequently cited reasons were perceptions that religion was being removed from the public square (23%) or that government was interfering with religion (20%).
“Some religious leaders, most prominently Catholic officials, have attempted to define the debate on the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage mandate as a question of religious liberty, but most Americans do not believe religious liberty is under attack today,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Nearly 6-in-10 Catholics do not believe that religious liberty is being threatened. The only religious group in which a majority believes religious liberty is being threatened in America today is evangelicals.”
This survey also finds those most likely to believe religious liberty is under attack are Republicans, white evangelical Protestants, and Americans age 65 and older.
I was also struck by the fact that 73% of millennials and 58% of political independents don’t buy the argument that religious liberty is under attack. That makes for tough sledding in this election and a bleak long-term outlook for conservatives who are pushing this argument for partisan gain. Public opinion is a volatile thing, so it would be a mistake for defenders of the contraception coverage mandate to rest on their laurels, but it’s definitely encouraging that the huge mobilization against it hasn’t persuaded most Americans.
Here’s a breakdown of what people who think religious liberty is at risk see as the specific threats:
The exit polls in Alabama and Mississippi revealed that Rick Santorum’s strong appeal to social conservatives transcends regional differences, as does Mitt Romney’s reliance on rich voters.
In Mississippi, Santorum won a narrow plurality of evangelicals (35%, compared to Gingrich’s 32% and Romney’s 29%). It broke down almost identically in Alabama, where Santorum, Gingrich and Romney respectively winning 35%, 32% and 27% of evangelicals.
However, Santorum won voters who said candidates’ religious beliefs “matter a great deal” by 15 percentage points in Mississippi and 16 percentage points in Alabama. He also earned support from a whopping 65% of Mississippi voters and 61% of Alabama voters who said “strong moral character” was the most important candidate quality. And once again, Santorum was the runaway favorite among voters who believe abortion should always be illegal.
Once again, Romney’s strongest support came from the wealthy, winning among voters who make over $100k/yr in both Alabama in Mississippi, but coming in third among voters who make less than $50k/yr.
Given that 80% of primary voters in Mississippi and 75% of primary voters in Alabama are evangelical, and that only one quarter of voters in these states had six-figure incomes, Santorum’s victories should hardly have come as a surprise.
Over at Think Progress Alex Seitz-Wald flags the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new letter to Congressional leaders urging protection of funding for programs that uphold human dignity and support struggling families:
Specifically, they singled out spending on health care, Pell Grants, affordable housing — which they called “essential for human dignity” — and food stamps. Just today, Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) panel on government oversight held a hearing on food stamp fraud that critics saw as pretense to gin up sentiment in favor of making cuts to the program.
Good on the bishops for laying out this marker as the federal budget debate begins. As we saw with last year’s fight over the Ryan budget, the faith community can play a key role in ensuring that the debate focuses on moral priorities rather than just dollars and cents.
Once the House GOP’s budget is released, I hope the USCCB steps up the effort to protect the vulnerable even more. As the contraception debate has revealed, they are capable of generating formidable pressure when they choose to do so.