When Archbishop Dolan replied to Paul Ryan’s attempt to reconcile his budget plan with Catholic social teaching, the nuances of his letter left some in the media confused about whether or not the bishop had endorsed the plan.
Many of us were hopeful that Dolan would take the opportunity to clarify his remarks and reinforce the existing Catholic bishop concerns about Ryan’s budget expressed.
Writing on his blog today, Dolan referenced the confusion but failed to clear it up. Instead he simply reiterated broad Catholic principles and bemoaned the fact that Catholics find areas of agreement and disagreement with both sides of the American political spectrum.
This generic approach only raises more questions. Dolan wouldn’t have had to take political sides to clarify his initial letter. And neglecting to do so not only failed to clear the air, but gave more fuel for the Dolan critics who claim tacitly endorsing Ryan and his budget was Dolan’s plan all along.
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Paul Ryan is a huge Ayn Rand fan. He credits her with inspiring him to become a politician. He said she did a “fantastic” job explaining “the morality of individualism” and, it seems, she inspired his budget proposal, which guts key programs that help struggling families (Rand believed everybody should fend for themselves – altruism is actually “evil” in her philosophy.)
Puzzlingly, Ryan is actually defending his budget in terms of his Roman Catholic faith – even trying to claim the Catholic bishops support his plan to take away assistance to poor children and the elderly when they have, in fact, criticized it.
Ryan’s claims just don’t hold water. As Rand herself pointed out many times, her worldview is entirely at odds with Christianity and all other faiths that teach concern for others.
Since Ryan clearly needs to brush up on his theology, Faithful America is asking Ryan to put down Ayn Rand and pick up the Bible. For every 1,000 petition signatures we collect we’ll hand-deliver one Bible to Ryan’s DC office and maybe toss in a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church for good measure.
Ryan is entitled to his own political philosophy and theology, but he’s not entitled to pass off Randian, cruel budget cuts as examples of Christian charity without somebody calling him on the contradiction.
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When Bill O’Reilly hosted Drs. Steve Schneck and Vince Miller, two signers of the Catholic theologians’ letter to Speaker Boehner before his commencement speech at the Catholic University of America, he made a number of flawed arguments trying to defend the morality of the Ryan budget.
Many of O’Reilly’s points are similar to the arguments Ryan himself made in his letter to Archbishop Dolan released last week–arguments we fact-checked already.
But one of O’Reilly’s claims deserves some special attention given how ubiquitous it is among small-government advocates: the idea that private charity is a sufficient social safety net.
All entitlements must be re-evaluated. There are ways to help the poor that don’t bankrupt us, and Catholics are compelled to help the poor. As you may know, “The Factor” gives millions of dollars to charitable causes. We have set up BillOReilly.com to do that because we believe those who have should help the have-nots.
But as Robert Partham at EthicsDaily.com points out, this idea doesn’t hold up to the facts:
The idea that churches can tackle national poverty, take care of those who are ill, and rebuild communities after natural disasters requires a spoonful of bad moral theology and a cup of dishonesty.
As commendable as O’Reilly’s charitable efforts are, his millions of dollars in charity are a drop in the bucket of what is needed.
Take one example of a program to care for low-income Americans: WIC. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children that feeds almost 9 million people each month. House Republicans proposed cuts of $747.2 million for the current fiscal year. It is simply dishonest to suggest that American charity can replace such a cut.
Another great example is Social Security, a program inspired by the staggering rates of poverty among elderly Americans in the early 20th century. By providing a steady income for all older Americans, the program helped ensure that no senior would be left vulnerable because of uncontrollable factors like lacking surviving family, not living close enough to a private charity, or finding insufficient support when charitable resources dried up. In fact, the program has been one of defining successes of American government–almost singlehandedly spurring a 25 percentage point decline in senior poverty from 1960 to 1995.
It’s callous to assert that cuts to any of these program would be anything but seriously harmful. Using misleading claims about the capacity of private charity to suggest otherwise distorts a debate of tremendous importance.
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We learned this week that voices within the GOP warned their leaders about the backlash that would result from pushing a budget proposal that guts Medicare while giving tax cuts to the wealthy. As the Senate prepares to vote on Rep. Ryan’s immoral budget proposal, these predictions have turned into reality and GOP Senators are abandoning ship.
In response to Rep. Ryan’s recent defense of the values behind his proposal and a letter exchange between Ryan and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, national and Wisconsin Catholic leaders continue to speak out about the contradiction between Ryan’s plan and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Francis Doyle, the former Associate General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said:
“It’s outrageous that Rep. Ryan claims his budget proposal lives up to the high bar of Catholic social teaching. Catholic theologians, bishops and a growing chorus of Catholic social justice leaders have been unequivocal that actions speak louder than words when it comes to promoting the common good. Giving new tax breaks to the rich while making life harder for the most vulnerable will not balance the budget, but it will inflict real pain on mothers, children and the elderly. This isn’t just bad public policy. It’s morally indefensible.”
Father Thomas Kelly, one of Rep. Ryan’s constituents and the voice of a recent radio ad that pressed Rep. Ryan on budget cuts that abandon pro-life values, added:
“Congressman Paul Ryan represents me in Congress, but he isn’t representing my Christian values about caring for the poor and the vulnerable. The federal budget plan Congressman Ryan wrote shreds our safety net for struggling families at the worst possible time. That’s not responsible leadership, and it’s not consistent with Scriptural teaching about how we should treat the least among us.”
Vincent Miller, a Catholic theologian and signer of the recent letter from Catholic scholars to Speaker Boehner urging him to reconsider his approach to caring for the poor and most vulnerable, stated:
“The Ryan/Boehner budget fails any Catholic measure of social justice by carving out trillions in new tax cuts for the wealthy while achieving the bulk of its savings through cuts to programs for the poor and the middle class. It embodies the hard-hearted, libertarian values of Ryan’s hero Ayn Rand that are fundamentally at odds with the Catholic virtue of solidarity. In Pope John Paul II’s words ‘we are all truly responsible for all’ and are called even to ‘lose’ ourselves for our neighbor. It is both heartbreaking and scandalous that Catholics are leaders in a movement so opposed to Catholic social doctrine.”
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Most of the attention given to the release of a written exchange between Archbishop Dolan and Paul Ryan yesterday has focused on what the Archbishop did and didn’t say in his message. But just as interesting is Ryan’s initial letter to Dolan in which he tries to defend his budget in explicitly Catholic terms. While it’s nice to see Ryan endorsing these important Catholic social principles, his arguments make clear that he’s deeply confused about both Catholic teaching and what his own budget actually does.
Ryan’s letter opens with his standard misinformed talking points about the details of the economy and the budget. Policy experts have already addressed these claims at length, so I’ll leave it to them to answer how Ryan’s budget relies on funny numbers, increases–not decreases–the debt, voucherizes Medicare, devastates programs for low income Americans to pay for tax cuts for the rich, and is far from the only budget proposal on the table.
I want to focus more specifically on some of Ryan’s religious references.
1. On protecting the most vulnerable:
“Ultimately the weakest will be hit three times over: by rising costs, by drastic cuts to programs they rely on, and by the collapse of individual support for charities that help the hungry, the homeless, the sick, refugees and others in need.”
Ryan warns of these ills as a potential future if his budget is not enacted, but the reality is that they’ve already arrived! Costs are rising while wages fall, the recession decimated charitable giving, and Ryan himself is the one suggesting drastic cuts to social safety net programs. If Ryan is concerned about the most vulnerable among us, he should be proposing solutions that address the crisis we have right now.
2. On his budget’s Medicare proposal:
“The proposal is consistent with the preferential option for the poor, providing more support for low income groups and the sick…These reforms protect and preserve Medicare – with no disruptions – for current seniors and those nearing retirement, and offer a strengthened, personalized Medicare program that future generations can count on.”
Ryan’s Medicare proposal has gotten the most attention for good reason. It’s the area from which he gets most of his budget’s “savings” by undermining our societal commitment to providing adequate health care for our senior citizens. Rather than addressing the spiraling costs of health care, Ryan’s budget simply shifts the costs onto seniors. It’s not a solution to the actual problem; it’s an accounting trick that balances the books by forcing seniors to pay dramatically more for their health care or go without. This was one of the concerns raised by Bishops Hubbard and Claire in their letter to Ryan last month, and he has done nothing to address it.
Even worse is what Ryan’s budget does with these “savings.” The money generated by placing a burden on seniors enables the GOP to continue extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans: $3.8 trillion over the next decade alone.
For Ryan to try to allege that this combination lives up to the preferential option for the poor is an insult to Catholic teaching.
3. On subsidiarity as it applies to Medicaid:
“Our Budget …[provides] a block grant of Medicaid funds to the states, allowing them greater flexibility to administer and supplement federal support levels to suit the unique needs of each. “Subsidiary” and “federalism” both counsel that the states, as “subordinate organizations” closer to the people, can do better in applying funds to the neediest.”
Subsidiarity is the Catholic concept that societal issues should be addressed by the least centralized body competent and able to do so. In his letter, Ryan uses one of the Catholic Right’s favorite arguments about subsidiarity: claiming that subsidiarity is a blanket endorsement of all “states’ rights” claims. But what Ryan leaves out is the second half of that equation which Archbishop Dolan helpfully filled in: “The principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are interrelated to one another.” A budget that delegates full responsibility for Medicaid to the states, but gives no concern with the impact that will have on the vulnerable participants in the program is short-sighted.
Indeed, Ryan’s plan makes deep cuts in funding for the program: $771 billion in the next decade alone and 49% of all funding for the program by 2030. Ryan claims these cuts will force states to find savings, but in the absence of any actual cost control suggestions, it’s clear that states will cut benefits and kick people out of the program to achieve this cost-saving. By relaxing the federal protections preventing governors from shrinking the rolls to save money, Ryan all but guarantees this result.
Subsidiarity applies to situations when the lower-tiered entity is sufficient to address the issue at hand. But what Ryan fails to take into account is that the lower-tiered entity (state governments, in this instance), are inadequate to ensure the Catholic principle of “solidarity” and care for the poor, so there is still a need for robust federal government involvement.
4. The ‘Social Assistance State’
Lastly, Paul Ryan refers to the problem of the ‘Social Assistance State’ referred to by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus. Of course, the Pope was writing at the end of the Cold War and reacting to the failures of Marxist regimes. It’s more than a stretch to suggest that the United States today is equivalent to Soviet Communism. Privileging this quote at the expense of numerous others expressing the fuller balance of the Church’s stance on this issue is political cherry-picking.
It’s ultimately a good sign that Ryan wants to engage in a conversation about his budget proposal’s compatibility with Catholic Social Teaching. And it’s certainly true that prudential judgment allows Catholics to disagree in good faith about the political application of various principles like giving preference to the poor. Under closer scrutiny, however, Ryan’s budget appears to differ not only in the means but in the fundamental ends as well.
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