This week, Laurie Goodstein at The New York Times reported on a new campaign from women religious this summer: a cross-country bus tour highlighting the valuable work of sisters in local communities and defending vulnerable populations from the devastating budget cuts of the House GOP budget.
“We’re doing this because these are life issues,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a liberal social justice lobby in Washington. “And by lifting up the work of Catholic sisters, we will demonstrate the very programs and services that will be decimated by the House budget.”
Goodstein also notes that the bus tour is occurring at the same time as the Catholic Bishops “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign in opposition to the HHS contraception regulations and comes on the heels of the Vatican’s harsh critique of American women religious.
Dressed in the clothing of consumer protection, the bill strips away Pennsylvania’s long-held and strongly enforced protections against predatory short-term loans. Sponsored by Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester), the legislation would drop-kick the state’s 24 percent annual-percentage-rate cap. As a result, individuals with marginal incomes, including truck drivers, nurses, and clerks, could be pushed into a cycle of debt.
It’s easy for that to happen: Lured by the availability of quick money, a borrower may take out a two-week loan and pay it back on payday, with interest and fees. A few days after payday, though, he realizes he can’t pay his bills, so he takes out another loan. Of course, he has less money to pay the new debt because he’s just paid an unconscionable premium to the payday lender.
The cycle repeats, keeping people indebted to the lenders an average of 200 days a year, according to national statistics.
Borrowers secure the payday loans with their bank accounts by either giving the lender a postdated check or, incredibly, giving the lender Internet access to bank accounts. Ross’ bill would also give payday lenders access to unemployment and Social Security checks. Talk about vulnerable people!
On a $300 loan, the legislation would allow $42.50 in interest and fees. Annualized, that’s 369 percent.
As the editorial points out, this effort puts Pennsylvania on the opposite path of other states such as Missouri where faith groups have been a key part of the coalition to put a payday-lending restriction referendum on this year’s ballot.
While the conference (under the leadership of Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development Chairman Bishop Stephen Blaire) has been clear that Ryan’s budget fails a “basic moral test,“ Bishop Morlino appears to let Ryan off the hook. Deferring to Ryan’s own excuse that he is exercising “prudential judgment,” Morlino describes him as someone “who makes his judgment in accord with all the teachings of the Church.”
Unfortunately, if Bishop Morlino actually means to say the Ryan budget is in accord with Cathoilc teaching, it would put him at odds with his fellow bishops who — as the USCCB made clear to Rep. Ryan – are represented by Bishop Blaire’s letters.
Their critique focuses not only on the specific cuts Ryan makes, but also his abandonment of the larger principle of shared sacrifice by the wealthy and the military.
It’s that imbalance — an imbalance that will do real harm to vulnerable families — that violates the bishops’ principles and puts the House GOP budget outside the range of acceptable options.
Catholic conservative Marc Thiessen went even further, accusing Bishop Stephen Blaire of waging a partisan attack based on insufficient policy knowledge.
Last week, in an interview with Bishop Blaire himself, Joan Frawley Desmond at the conservative National Catholic Register continued the pushback. Though less accusatory than Thiessen, Desmond hit Bishop Blaire with a litany of false GOP talking points designed as leading questions. The whole exchange reads as a clear attempt to elicit a sympathetic response that dilutes the bishops’ clear critique of Congressman Ryan’s priorities and proposals.
To his credit, Bishop Blaire refused to play along. Here Bishop Blaire responds to one of Ryan’s favorite “defenses” by blasting the underlying assumptions behind it:
DESMOND: Getting back to your point that cutting revenues — taxes — results in preventing the government from carrying out its responsibilities: It would seem that there is a difference of opinion on whether Ryan’s budget proposal is actually “cutting” programs that aid the poor or just slowing spending. Is there a moral difference?
BLAIRE: You have to determine what your priorities are. If your only priority is to cut the budget, that approach is inadequate.
You might call it a balanced approach. The first question is not limiting the budget, but to ask, “What are our responsibilities?” We have to ask: “Does the budget adjust to our philosophy or does our philosophy adjust to budgetary needs?”
The budget is not just a financial document; it is a moral document: Are you cutting services to the poor and leaving the military alone?
Since the interview, Bishop Blaire has penned yet another letter condemning the GOP budget’s harmful, immoral cuts to protections for struggling families. I’m not sure how many different ways the bishops need to say it before it sinks in for Catholic conservatives.
Earlier this month, the USCCB blasted the House GOP budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan in a series of letters to various House committees. The letters highlighted numerous ways in which the plan violated church teaching about protecting the poor and vulnerable.
Today, as the House debates a specific budget bill that disregards these objections, the Catholic Bishops are speaking out again. Bishop Stephen Blaire, the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development who authored the previous letters, has written a new message to the House of Representatives taking issue with the specifics of their proposal.
Specifically naming the bill’s cuts to SNAP, the Social Services Block Grant and the exclusion of children of immigrants from the Child Tax Credit, Bishop Blaire makes clear:
The Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits our country faces, and we acknowledge that Congress must make difficult decisions about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs. However, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The proposedcuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test.
Hopefully this time GOP leaders will take the Bishops’ concerns into account instead of dismissing and denigrating them.