As the Bishops stated in a May 5 letter to the U.S. Senate, “The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated.” In yet another letter, this one to members of the House of Representatives, the Bishops state plainly that “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.”
Despite these clear directives and guidance, House Republicans, including Roman Catholics Paul Ryan and Speaker Boehner, have brought forward a budget that demands the poorest and most vulnerable shoulder two-thirds of our nation’s spending cuts, while simultaneously rewarding the wealthiest Americans with a tax break. The hardest hit will be seniors, those with disabilities, children, and pregnant women.
This is hardly a fair or moral distribution of the deficit reduction burden. The contrast of Catholic social justice teaching with the House Republican budget is stark and obvious. Yet, Congressman Ryan boldly stated that his budget “upholds the dignity of the human person and is especially attentive to the long-term concerns of the poor.” A simple review of this budget refutes his attempt to surround his policy plans with a mantle of morality.
Red flags should go up when an elected official supports cutting or ending a program that guarantees assistance meeting people’s basic needs and offers no evidence or even explanation describing how these needs will be met. Legislators like Congressman Paul Ryan and Speaker Boehner often argue that private charity and philanthropy is all that is required of Christians and faithful citizens. This argument denies the moral imperative in Catholic social teaching to create a just society directed toward the common good.
The moral responsibility of protecting an unborn child is no different than the responsibility to ensure that a child with cancer gets proper medical treatment without bankrupting their family. These responsibilities have the same source—the fundamental worth of the human person. To truly follow Catholic social teaching, you must begin with the basic belief that human life and human dignity are intertwined and must never be disconnected for partisan gain.
I can only hope that as this debate continues, Speaker Boehner, Paul Ryan and all legislators will take the Catholic bishops’ offer to “work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity.” It will only be then that we will have a budget that is just and moral, one that truly reflects the long standing values of our nation.
Dahlkemper is the former U.S. Representative for the 3rd Congressional District of Pennsylvania.