House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose budget plan recently passed the House in a party-line vote, says his faith contributed in shaping the proposal, which he says is consistent with Catholic teachings.
“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private,” Ryan said in an interview released on Tuesday by the Christian Broadcasting Network. “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?”
The Republican budget aims to reduce the federal deficit almost entirely through spending cuts, while Democrats say there must be a “balanced approach” of spending cuts and tax increases.
The White House has attacked the plan, saying in a statement that Republicans “banded together to shower millionaires and billionaires with a massive tax cut paid for by ending Medicare as we know it,” and President Obama has called it “thinly veiled Social Darwinism” that disproportionately hurts the poor.
"It's antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who's willing to work for it, a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class,” the president said at a luncheon hosted by The Associated Press last week.
But in the CBN interview, Ryan made a moral case for his budget, saying that the 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.
“Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good, by not having Big Government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities,” Ryan said.
“Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants 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.”
After the House passed Ryan’s 2012 budget last year, a group of 70 Catholic leaders sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging him “protect the most vulnerable from budget cuts” and slamming the budget as “particularly cruel” to the most vulnerable.
“Speaker Boehner’s budget eviscerates vital programs that protect the poor, the elderly, the homeless and at-risk pregnant women and children. This is not pro-life," said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.
Democrats pounced on the issue, saying Republican remarks in support of low-income safety-net programs are hypocritical in the face of the GOP's hopes to slash funding for the same initiatives.
The Obama administration has at times also made a moral case for its budgetary policies, saying that a tax on millionaires, or the so-called “Buffett Rule” the Senate will vote on next week, is a matter of “fairness.”
At a campaign stop in Florida on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the tax code was “increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthiest Americans,” and the president is scheduled to discuss the Buffett Rule at length later in the day.