The never-ending battle over health care reform

January 3, 2011, 12:21 pm | Posted by

As the new Congress prepares to start, House leaders have signaled that repealing the Affordable Care Act will be one of their first priorities. I’m sure for some Members this is a simplistic ideological exercise — if “Obamacare” is bad, then repeal of “Obamacare” must be good, right?

Unfortunately, this partisan effort on Capitol Hill would have terrible effects in the real world. It would allow insurers to spend less on care and more on executive salaries, re-institute discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions, make prescriptions more expensive for seniors, raise prices on preventative services, slash funding for community health centers that are the only primary care providers in many low-income communities, and kill other needed reforms before they have a chance to take effect.

Obviously, a very small circle of people determine the legislative agenda. But it’s up to the rest of us – including faith leaders who worked hard to pass the Affordable Care Act — to remind lawmakers, the media, and other political insiders that there are human consequences to political stunts such as this.

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Catholic Lie of the Year

December 23, 2010, 12:16 pm | Posted by

We noted last week that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.com gave its Lie of the Year award to the myth that health care reform legislation represented a “government takeover” of the health care system. This has me musing over what the biggest Catholic lie of the year was in 2010. I’m picking the laughable effort that Deal Hudson, the CatholicVote.org crowd and other conservative Catholics made to brand Tea Party ideology as all nice and cozy with Catholic social teaching. This effort was so transparently partisan and willfully ignorant of centuries of Catholic social teaching that it runs away with the award like Cam Newton and the Heisman.

The idea that the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” fits lockstep with anti-government rhetoric, free-market fundamentalism and lower taxes for millionaires and billionaires is a stunning distortion of papal encyclicals and Catholic social teaching through the ages. The always insightful Vox Nova blog says it well.

Fundamentally, subsidiarity is all about letting human dignity flourish by creating the space for social relations to take place at the most personal level. It is meaningless when stripped away from solidarity. It has nothing to do with low taxes, minimal regulation, or low spending. In the economic sphere, solidarity calls for government intervention in certain core areas (such as determining working conditions and support for the unemployed), while subsidiarity calls for the government to create favorable conditions for the common good to flourish. That, by the way, means correcting the problems that come with the free market. This was patently clear to Pius XI, the intellectual architect of subsidiarity, when he railed against the injustice created by unregulated large corporations, especially in the financial sector. Properly understood, subsidiarity provides a bulwark against both the centralizing tendencies of socialist collectivism, and the decentralizing tendencies of the free market.

Deal Hudson and Thomas Peters might want to put down those Republican talking points and dust off their Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004, the Compendium describes the “common good” as “the reason that political authority exists.” In Catholic teaching, government has an essential role in helping to create the conditions of a just society where human dignity can flourish. The Catholic Church is not a spiritual subsidiary of the Cato Institute. The Church’s call to reject excessive individualism and warnings about the dangers of unregulated markets don’t sound anything like the Tea Partiers.

Even on the prickly political issues of taxes, Catholic teaching is not shy about urging a more just distribution of wealth (see Church teaching on the “universal destination of goods”). Church advocates for “a reasonable and fair application of taxes,” according to the Compendium, “in which burdens are “proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” As Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, writes in a recent Washington Post “On Faith” commentary “the late Pope John Paul II, that resolute opponent of communism, nonetheless repeatedly insisted that private wealth was subject to a ‘social mortgage’ to be used for the common good.”

Catholic conservatives have every right to support the Republican Party, embrace Tea Party libertarianism and believe in less regulation of business. These are political arguments I find lacking, but they are longstanding views subject to debate in the robust marketplace of ideas. But anointing them with the imprimatur of Catholic Church teaching is wrong.

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New START ratified

December 22, 2010, 6:53 pm | Posted by

This afternoon the Senate ratified the New START Treaty, with 71 Senators (56 Democrats, 13 Republicans, 2 Independents) voting in favor and 26 Republicans voting against it. Faith leaders across the spectrum strongly supported New START, which significantly reduces nuclear weapons stockpiles and resumes inspection of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Protestant, Catholic, evangelical and Jewish leaders pushed Senators to support ratification in a variety of ways. It’s fair to say that the faith community’s multifaceted advocacy for this nonproliferation treaty brought a needed moral element to an issue that could otherwise have been easily reduced to a purely geopolitical question.

Yesterday numerous clergy published an article in The Hill’s Congress Blog advocating for the treaty, which summarizes much of my own thinking on the issue:

No one of good will wants to see the devastation – the loss of life, the destruction of creation, the political and economic fallout – that would occur if a nuclear bomb were to go off on American soil or anywhere. As Christians, we live in the tension between working toward the time in which “nation will not take up sword against nation” and confronting the realities of a fallen world. We wrestle with the Apostle’s conviction that the state “does not bear the sword in vain” and our call to be peacemakers.

And though this tension can often lead us to divergent stances on war and peace, it is a source of strength as we are able to be neither blindly idealistic nor fatally nihilistic. From this perspective, the measures in New START toward the containment and security of nuclear weapons are vital to our peace and security.

Kudos to the 71 Senators who did the right thing, and to the countless faith leaders who pushed them to do so.

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Episcopal Bullying Wins in Phoenix

December 21, 2010, 5:03 pm | Posted by

UPDATE: Last week, I blogged about Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, who threatened to strip St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status after earlier this year the hospital determined that a surgical procedure resulting in the termination of a pregnancy of a young mother close to death was medically necessary to save her life. The decision was made by doctors in consultation with Sister Margaret Mary McBride, the hospital’s vice president, who sits on St. Joseph’s ethics committee.

Bishop Olmsted called a news conference today and said this, according to breaking news from the National Catholic Reporter.

It is my duty to decree that, in the Diocese of Phoenix, at St. Joseph’s Hospital, CHW [Catholic Healthcare West] is not committed to following the teaching of the Catholic Church and therefore this hospital cannot be considered Catholic. The Catholic faithful are free to seek care or to offer care at St. Joseph’s Hospital but I cannot guarantee that the care provided will be in full accord with the teachings of the Church. In addition, other measures will be taken to avoid the impression that the hospital is authentically Catholic, such as the prohibition of celebrating Mass at the hospital and the prohibition of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel.

This is episcopal bullying, and a truly sad development. The hospital is standing firm. In a statement posted on its web site, hospital president Linda Hunt said the hospital will remain “steadfast” in fulfilling its mission.

Consistent with our values of dignity and justice, if we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case. We continue to stand by the decision, which was made in collaboration with the patient, her family, her caregivers, and our Ethics Committee. Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.

Bishop Olmsted’s stunning decision to also end celebration of Mass at the hospital adds another element of outrage to this story. Executing his “duty to decree” (Olmsted’s imperial language) and proving his power in the diocese apparently takes precedence over ensuring that patients and the families of the sick and the dying have spiritual refuge during times of crisis. As Michael Sean Winters notes on his NCR blog, Distinctively Catholic, this case is a failure of episcopal leadership on multiple fronts.

During this holy week of Christmas, my thoughts and prayers are with Sr. McBride and the dedicated staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital, a proud Catholic institution.

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed!

December 18, 2010, 4:56 pm | Posted by

By a final vote of 65-31, the Senate just voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the military’s 17-year-old policy of discrimination against LGBT service members. This victory is a pretty remarkable reversal, considering that 40 Senators filibustered repeal last week, as well as in September. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has long been one of the religious right’s signature issues, and their rhetoric has ranged from the offensive to the apocalyptic. But despite their best efforts, an overwhelming majority of the American people support allowing gay and lesbian people to serve our country openly in the military, and Congress has finally heeded the public’s wishes and embraced American ideals by doing away with the military’s discriminatory practice of dismissing LGBT members of the military.

When Congress took up DADT repeal earlier this fall, my friend (and FPL board member) Rev. Derrick Harkins had this to say:

America’s military should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, just as they no longer discriminate on the basis of race. It’s an issue of basic fairness, as well as a practical matter. The military should not be hampered from recruiting and retaining well-trained, courageous men and women who want to serve their country. Repealing the outdated, impractical, unjust ban of gay and lesbian service members will strengthen America’s military and reflect American values.

Today Congress finally took this long-awaited step toward justice. History will not look kindly on those who used scare tactics and political maneuvering to stand in the way until the bitter end.

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