The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is criticizing the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan for cutting food stamps and other assistance programs for the poor.
In a letter sent to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”
A second letter sent Tuesday to the Ways and Means Committee criticizes a provision that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The bishops called the credit “one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation.”
In response to the bishops’ criticism, Ryan argued that by accelerating the debt crisis, President Obama’s policies will be more damaging to the poor.
“The president’s policies, by the administration’s own admission, accelerate a debt crisis, hurting the poor the first and the worst,” Ryan said in a statement to The Hill. He said his own budget “lifts this crushing burden of debt, repairs our broken safety net and tackles our generation’s defining challenge of ensuring opportunity for generations to come.”
Ryan’s budget aims to reduce the federal deficit almost entirely through spending cuts; it would cut about $5 trillion more than the president’s 2013 budget proposal. Democrats are pushing for tax increases to reduce the deficit in addition to spending cuts. Ryan’s plan also includes a proposal to revamp Medicare that would give future seniors the choice of opting out of the program in favor of private insurance.
Ryan made the moral case for his budget in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network. He said government shouldn’t be responsible for lifting its citizens out of poverty — rather, that it’s the obligation of the citizens themselves to be society’s caretakers.
“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private,” Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in the interview. “So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?
“Those principles are very, very important,” Ryan said. “And the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.”
Ryan’s comments drew criticism from some progressive Catholic groups last week, but the letters made public this week represent the first time the bishops have weighed in on Ryan’s budget.
In the letter to the Agriculture Committee, the bishops urged lawmakers to reject “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition” programs for “moral and human reasons.” They said spending cuts should instead be made to subsidy programs that “disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness.”
Lawmakers should “protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises,” said the letter, signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire.
“Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”
On Tuesday, the USCCB released text of earlier letters sent to lawmakers.
In joint letters to the House and Senate sent on March 3, the bishops addressed the “moral and human dimensions of the federal budget,” and their fear that pressure to reduce the deficit would wipe out Pell Grants, workforce training and development, nutrition assistance, low-income tax credits and safe and affordable housing for the less fortunate.
A letter dated April 4 went to the House Appropriations Committee and focused solely on potential cuts to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs that benefit the poor, elderly, veterans and those with disabilities.
At a private fundraising event on Sunday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told supporters that if elected, he might look to eliminate HUD, which his father, George Romney, once led.
There is some speculation that Ryan could be the vice presidential candidate on the Romney ticket.
This is not the first time this election cycle that the Catholic Church has pushed back against policies it believes clash with its teachings.
It sharply criticized the Obama administration this year for requiring employer-purchased insurance plans to provide birth control to employees without a co-pay.
The Catholic Church, as well as Republicans and some Democrats, blasted the move as a violation of religious liberty, and the administration responded with what it said was an “accommodation” allowing exceptions from the mandate for Catholic hospitals and other religiously affiliated groups.
The bishops argue that the accommodation doesn’t go far enough and would still violate religious liberty by, among other things, forcing employers to make available birth control, including the morning-after pill, to their employees.
This story was posted at 1:33 p.m. and updated at 5:26 p.m.