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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Archbishop Tim Dolan’s response to Paul Ryan’s letter yesterday has caught the attention of the Beltway press. Unfortunately, they’ve misinterpreted what the Catholic prelate was saying.
Politico’s story yesterday, titled “Paul Ryan gets boost from Catholic bishops,” features this misleading line:
The letter also clearly disputes one of the chief rallying cries against the budget: That it would hurt the poor to benefit the rich.
As we showed yesterday, this is decidedly not true. Dolan praises Ryan’s expressed commitment to Catholic social principles, but cautions that “assurances” are not enough, and the bishops will be watching what effect the budget actually has.
This is the consensus opinion amongst almost all of the religion writers who have covered the story so far.
Rev. Chuck Currie:
That’s no endorsement. In fact, the Archbishop is simply saying: we’re watching and will continue and weigh in. Archbiship Dolan refers Ryan back to a letter sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to members of the U.S. House of Representatives on April 13, 2010 in which they wrote [concerns with the Ryan budget framework]…In short, the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops oppose the heart of the GOP’s budget.
Paul Moses at dotCommonweal:
Some news accounts from Washington have fallen for the spin and reported that Dolan had written that the GOP budget plan takes Catholic social teaching into account. But if you actually read the letters instead of the press releases, it’s clear that Archbishop Dolan is non-committal on the Republicans’ budget proposals.
And Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter:
The first thing to note is that if Ryan went looking for an endorsement of his budget bill, he failed to get it. Dolan praises Ryan’s assurances of moral concern, not his budgetary proposals. Dolan focuses his attention on Ryan’s initial letter, not on the budget. Dolan’s letter, on its, face, is a tightly, carefully written text, but he was about to throw it into a political and media environment that is anything but careful.
MSW also includes a call for Dolan to clarify for the press:
The larger problem for Dolan is that the media is viewing this exchange of letters as mere cover for the GOP. Providing political cover is not a part of the brief of a President of the USCCB. Keeping the bishops united is. It is vital that in the coming days, Archbishop Dolan explain how this letter to Ryan was not intended to frustrate the positions already articulated by the USCCB.
I echo this request. It would go a long way towards helping secular media understand the nuance of Dolan’s position. Ryan and Boehner should not be given a free pass to misrepresent the words of religious leaders for political gain.
Update: Jonathan Cohn offers an alternate reading of Dolan’s letter, expressing doubt that the Archbishop intended such a strict firewall between praising Ryan’s letter and endorsing his plan.
“The president of an organization as dedicated to social justice as the Bishops claim to be should oppose the Republican budget, loudly and without hesitation. He should not be praising the budget’s architect, no matter what that architect said about Catholic values.”
While I don’t believe Dolan intended that suggestion, he should have anticipated how his personal praise of Ryan could be interpreted and used more caution to avoid the appearance of a split between him and the position of his brother bishops
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Last month Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) sent a letter about his budget proposal to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop (USCCB).
The Archbishop’s response arrived yesterday, and if Ryan was looking for an endorsement, he certainly didn’t get it. While Dolan’s message is full of kind words about the broad moral principles Ryan spoke about in his initial letter, it’s noticeably absent of any compliments towards Ryan’s actual proposal. Instead, Dolan refers Ryan back to the letter sent on behalf of the USCCB from fellow bishops Blaire and Hubbard–a letter that raised specific objections to Ryan’s dismantling of Medicare, Medicaid and cuts to nutrition, education and housing programs.
Dolan’s letter shows a keen awareness that there is a sharp difference between what Ryan claims his budget will do, and what it does in practice:
A singularly significant part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard, and that the much needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burdens upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people…I appreciate your assurance that your budget would be attentive to such considerations and would protect those at risk in the processes and programs of such a transition. While appreciating these assurances, our duty as pastors will motivate our close attention to the manner in which they become a reality.
It’s a good sign that Ryan is thinking about the moral implications of his budget proposal, it’s an even better one that the bishops intend to keep him honest.
Photo from photoactionusa-Flickr
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Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic who frequently touts his pro-life bona fides, has some explaining to do when it comes to his shameless defense of torture. Santorum and several other presidential candidates recently endorsed enhanced interrogation techniques (euphemism alert!) during the first Republican primary debate. Now he is accusing John McCain of not understanding how “enhanced interrogation works” because McCain does not believe there is credible evidence to suggest we captured Osama Bin Laden by relying on intelligence gained from waterboarding and other vile instruments in the torture toolkit. This is a stunning charge for Santorum to cast at someone personally subjected to the unimaginable indignity that McCain suffered as a prisoner of war.
Along with an apology to McCain, I would like to hear how Santorum reconciles his support for torture with his Catholic faith. If Santorum thinks being pro-life only requires opposing abortion, he might want to take a refresher course in Catholic teaching. Catholic bishops described torture as an assault on the dignity of human life and an “intrinsic evil” in their 2007 statement Faithful Citizenship. (For a more in depth look at intrinsic evil and political responsibility read this essay by Cathleen Kaveny of the University of Notre Dame in America magazine.) “The use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism,” the bishops wrote in Faithful Citizenship. As Kyle R. Cupp points out over at Vox Nova, Pope Paul VI described such acts as “infamies” that “poison society,” do “supreme dishonor to the Creator,” and “do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from injury.”
Last week, Catholic theologians challenged Speaker John Boehner on budget choices that undermine human life, and Catholics and evangelicals sponsored a radio ad narrated by a Catholic priest that described Rep. Paul Ryan’s House budget proposal as abandoning pro-life values. These were powerful actions that rejected a narrow and distorted pro-life vision in politics. As the 2012 presidential election begins heating up, religious leaders and faithful in the pews should continue to keep the pressure on Santorum and other “pro-life” candidates who pick and choose between which lives they consider sacred.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
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