Same Budget Problems, New Budget Year

By Timothy King 3-20-2012
Rep. Paul Ryan, Photo, Gage Skidmore, Flickr.
Rep. Paul Ryan, Photo, Gage Skidmore, Flickr.

This morning, Congressman Paul Ryan (R- WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, released a proposal for an FY 2013 budget. Similar to last year, the plan places an undue burden of deficit reduction on low-income people. Effective anti-poverty programs are targeted for cuts while a tax plan that could significantly reduce tax burdens for top income earners.

According to analysis from Bread for the World:

This FY 2013 budget proposal would have a devastating impact on programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), low-income tax credits, and would make international food aid and poverty-focused foreign assistance vulnerable to cuts that would undermine our national security.

The proposed budget would cut SNAP by turning it into a block grant program. This would prevent the program from responding when there is an increase in need.  Once the money from the block grant is spent, there cannot be an increase in funds. Currently, SNAP automatically increases with need.

Last year, the House budget plan was opposed by the “Circle of Protection” that represented a broad and diverse spectrum of Christian leaders. Signed by over 50 denominational heads and leaders of faith based non-profits, the statement called for any federal budget to reflect the moral principles of long term fiscal responsibility while protection vulnerable people. 

Sojourners Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, condemned the proposal and pointed out the devastating effects that budgets, like the one proposed today, would have had on low income communities and the Churches and non-profits that serve them.

It is simply unconscionable to balance the budget on the backs of struggling Americans while protecting tax breaks for millionaires. Corporate interests and the 1% have their lobbyists. But, who will protect the interests of the poor?

Last year Representative Ryan’s budget proposal would have wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of America’s most vulnerable people. Fiscal responsibility doesn’t need to mean economic cruelty. Churches and faith-based non-profits are already fighting an uphill battle to meet the needs of their communities. They don’t need politicians making their work even harder because Congress is dead set on politicizing a simple duty of common sense governance.   

Ron Sider, who recently authored the book, Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget, has extensively studied both the policy and moral issues at stake in tackling our nation’s debt. He rejected the idea that this plan was a road to responsibility or prosperity. He responded:

We must stop endless budget deficits but it would be immoral to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.  But it is also immoral for Grandpa to keep using his grandchildren's credit card… We can solve the budget crisis in a way that is just for the poor and our grandchildren. Paul Ryan's budget is not the way to do that.

Earlier this month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Congressurging them to adhere to three moral principles when making budget decisions:

1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

Father Thomas Kelly, a Catholic priest who lives in Ryan’s district, raised concerns that the budget Ryan proposed is not consistent with Catholic social teaching.

As a constituent of Congressman Ryan and a Catholic priest, I’m disappointed by his cruel budget plan and outraged that he defends it on moral grounds.  Ryan is Catholic, and he knows that justice for the poor and economic fairness are core elements of our church’s social teaching. It’s shameful that he disregarded these principles in his budget.

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, of the Disciples of Christ, pointed out that Christians are not just called to charity but also to work for justice. Concern for the poor expands beyond personal actions and into the decisions we make about priorities as a nation:

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he didn’t just mean exchanging cups of sugar with the family next door. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed that being a neighbor means reaching out to anyone, anywhere, in their need. A federal budget that slices away at funds for hungry children and their families, that abandons senior citizens, that reduces life-sustaining foreign aid, is a budget that goes against the teachings of Jesus. America can do better! The Good Samaritan saw a need, reached out to meet the need, and then enlisted the aid of others to help. Through a compassionate federal budget, we can do the same – and be a stronger nation for it!

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, believes that Congress is looking to do the easy thing at the expense of long term commitment to solutions. He said:

Congressional budgets reflect the priorities and values of our nation. For that matter, while we stand committed to deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility, we cannot sacrifice the most impoverished on the altar of expediency. Those that advocate for faith and family must marry rhetoric with action. The poor and the hurting cannot emerge as budget war collateral damage.

Many faith leaders played a key role in pushing back against proposed harmful cuts in last year’s budget and have committed to do so again. To join the Circle of Protection and to let your elected officials know your priorities, click here.

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