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Paul Ryan + Immoral Budgets = Public Service Award from a Catholic university?

April 2, 2014, 2:17 pm | Posted by

Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals have been challenged in recent years by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prominent Catholic theologians, a “Nuns on the Bus” tour and respected anti-poverty experts. When your guiding ideology seems to be making life harder for the working poor and coddling the super rich with more tax breaks, you better expect some moral scrutiny along the way.

This consistent Catholic pressure on Ryan doesn’t seem to bother Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center, which is hosting a luncheon tomorrow in Washington to honor the congressman with a distinguished public service award. Named in honor of Les Aspin, a Milwaukee native who served in the House of Representatives and as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, the award honors a person who “serves as a role model for our nation’s future leaders.” Marquette has sold tickets and sponsorships for the luncheon, including a $25,000 “Gold Tier” buy in that gets you “priority seating.”

Marquette University has every right to give Rep. Ryan or anyone else an award. Universities should be settings that stimulate civil debate across the political and ideological spectrum. But you might expect officials at a Catholic university would think carefully about honoring and raising money off someone who perpetuates racial stereotypes about urban poverty, demonizes government and mocks those concerned about growing income inequality.

At a time when Pope Francis challenges ”trickle-down” economic theories and warns about “an economy of exclusion and inequality,” Ryan released a budget this week that slashes federal funding for low-income students, food assistance to hungry families and makes deep cuts to health care coverage. This is not a pro-life budget. It’s an ideological gimmick that reflects Ryan’s favorite intellectual hero, the libertarian icon, Ayn Rand. While Ryan has recently backed away from his encomiums to Rand, the congressman once praised Rand for doing “a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.” He once cited her as “the reason why I got involved in public service.”

Ryan will be handed his public service award just two days after releasing a 2015 budget proposal that fails a basic moral test.

“This budget proposal doubles down on policies that hurt our nation and is even worse than Ryan’s earlier ones,” said Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, in a statement today. “Forcing the working poor to pay the price of addressing federal deficits while expecting nothing from those with the most wealth is wrong.”

Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a statement that Ryan’s budget is “an exercise in hypocrisy — claiming to boost opportunity and reduce poverty while flagrantly doing the reverse.” Here are just a few highlights (or lowlights) from the Ryan proposal, according to Greenstein:

-  Eliminates Pell Grants entirely for low-income students who have families to support, must work, and are attending school less than half time on top of their jobs.

- Resurrects the draconian benefit cuts in SNAP (food stamps) that the House passed last fall and adds $125 billion of SNAP cuts on top of them.

- Repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), taking coverage away from the millions of people who have just attained it, and cuts Medicaid by $732 billion (by 26 percent by 2024) on top of the cuts
from repealing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

- At least 40 million low- and moderate-income people — that’s 1 in 8 Americans — would become uninsured by 2024. They include the 25 million otherwise-uninsured people that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects will gain coverage through the ACA by 2024.

I’m not holding my breath that any of these inconvenient facts will be raised among the polite chatter and clinking silverware at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill tomorrow. I suppose it would ruin the mood.

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President Obama Meets Pope Francis

March 26, 2014, 6:05 pm | Posted by

Today at the Vatican, President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time.

While detailed reports of the meeting aren’t out yet, there certainly wasn’t enough time to cover all the issues on which they share common concern. Climate change, staggering economic inequality, poverty, the plight of immigrants and refugees, and international conflict resolution all need focus from the world’s most powerful political leader and most recognizable faith leader. Given Pope Francis’s condemnation of “an economy of exclusion” and President Obama’s recent reference to those warnings, I think and hope that addressing the staggering gap between the wealthiest few and those left behind figured prominently.

Still fighting for affordable healthcare

Four years and several days ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Now, after seemingly endless repeal attempts and obstruction, along with a very rocky rollout, the law is getting a chance to work for millions of American families.

While there are many challenges ahead, I’m proud to say that faith groups are playing a crucial role in making the law work.

But right now the biggest obstacle is the unconscionable decision by politicians in 25 states to reject the federally funded expansion of Medicaid. Fortunately this has become a rallying cry for the Moral Mondays movement in several key states. This movement will only grow stronger as conservative politicians’ immoral obstruction continues.

Faith groups such as NETWORK, Catholics United and PICO National Network were instrumental in the healthcare reform legislative debate in Washington. It’s only fitting that clergy and congregations are carrying on the fight in state capitals where politicians are making the lethal and immoral choice to deny their citizens the care they need.

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“An empty soul”?

March 13, 2014, 1:11 pm | Posted by

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) always provides a useful window into what’s resonating with the movement’s activist base. One moment from this year’s conference, held last week in Washington, struck me as particularly important.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has a history of using faith to justify an agenda that takes food and health care away from struggling families and seniors, accused proponents of a strong safety net of offering “a full stomach – and an empty soul.”

He went on to tell a false story about a child in poverty to attack the free school lunch program that keeps students from going hungry.

After years of receiving powerful rebukes from faith leaders over his immoral federal budget proposals, his misuse of Catholic teaching and his allegiance to Ayn Rand, it seems that Ryan is trying to rehabilitate his image while clinging to his ideology. It’s no surprise that Ryan, a Catholic, would make a moral argument, but it’s shocking that he’d characterize safety net provisions supported by Catholic nuns and bishops as offering “an empty soul.”

This is more than just Ryan’s personal crusade. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of this kind of rhetoric from conservative politicians in the months ahead, but they still strongly oppose effective anti-poverty measures like raising the minimum wage and tax fairness policies like closing massive loopholes for big corporations that don’t pay any taxes.

What they’re left with, then, are empty moral platitudes in service of the same old extremist agenda. We have to counter that with a vision for an economy that honors the dignity of work and enables all families to flourish.

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Paul Ryan Pontificating about Poverty Once Again

March 6, 2014, 5:29 pm | Posted by
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has a well-earned reputation as a politician who uses faith to justify policies that kick struggling families when they’re down. So it’s hardly surprising that his remarks about poverty at the Conservative Political Action Conference today included religious and moral arguments. Raw Story has the footage:

It’s interesting that he accuses safety-net supporters of offering “a full stomach and an empty soul.” As a Catholic, is Ryan accusing nuns and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of advancing an agenda of spiritual bankruptcy? I ask because these leaders vocally defend protections like SNAP and extended unemployment insurance that help hard-hit families put food on the table.

And Ryan’s remarks about families that count on free school lunches are just as troubling. I taught in a school where most students received free or reduced-price lunches. Much like kids at middle-class schools across the country, I’m sure many of them would’ve preferred a homemade meal over the cafeteria cuisine. But Ryan’s suggestion that the 31 million American children who get free or reduced-price lunches aren’t “cared for” by their parents is contemptuous and foolish. Ryan, who is a millionaire, appears to be completely out of touch with the struggles and sacrifices of families trying to get by on the $290 a week that a minimum wage worker brings home.

Ryan should stop pontificating about low-income families — and stop trying to make it even harder for them to meet their most basic needs.

(h/t TPM)

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This Lent, a deeper hunger for justice

March 6, 2014, 3:48 pm | Posted by

For me, Lent is always a powerful time of reflection and prayer on self-sacrifice. Those who strive to build the beloved Community bring new life out of the ashes of sin and brokenness.

Last winter the “Fast for Families” movement put immigration reform back on Congress’ agenda. This month faith, immigration and labor leaders launched “Fast for Families Across America, a seven week bus tour that will visit 75 Congressional districts to help change the hearts and minds of members of Congress who continue to oppose long overdue immigration reform. Twenty-eight Catholic college and university presidents who fasted on Ash Wednesday reflected: “As we begin this sacred season and remember Christ’s journey of suffering the desert wilderness we pray for immigrants who hunger and thirst for justice.” You can sign up to join the fast here.

Fighting for family wages

Yesterday as I stood with faith leaders and U.S Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to call for raising the minimum wage, I met a mom who reminded me of the sacrifices mothers and families are making in an economy that fails to honor their work with living wages. The prophet Isaiah said, “My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands,” yet today millions of workers cannot enjoy the fruit of their labor by seeing their families thrive.

A bold rebuke in Arizona

Last week evangelical leaders issued a statement boldly calling on their own communities to oppose legislation like Arizona’s SB 1062, which would have discriminated against gay people in the name of religious freedom. Their statementsaid in part: “We believe that the current position that many Evangelical leaders are taking on issues of discrimination toward the gay community directly contradict that posture of radical love and grace that Jesus so powerfully embodied in his life and teachings.” As other states consider similar bills, they will have to contend with strong opposition across the religious spectrum.

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