Amid criticism that he is ignoring the needs of the poor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended his proposed budget's approach to relieving poverty as “consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith.”
Delivering an April 26 lecture at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Ryan discussed how his faith influenced the 2013 fiscal year budget proposal that he authored.
He said that his budget incorporates “the twin virtues of solidarity and subsidiarity – virtues that, when taken together, revitalize civil society instead of displacing it.”
The Congressman argued that poverty is best addressed by an approach that does not rely entirely upon the federal government but instead makes use of other social groups and associations as well.
He cautioned that “if you have too much government, you displace those civil mediating institutions which we call civil society – those charities, those churches, those civic groups, those ways we interact with each other in our communities.”
The budget plan was passed by the House of Representatives but has not been considered by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
However, it has been strongly criticized by those who believe that it does not provide enough money for social welfare programs.
In a letter sent shortly before Ryan’s appearance on campus, almost 90 of the over 2000 total members of the Georgetown faculty and administration chided the Congressman for his “continuing misuse of Catholic teaching.”
They accused him of promoting “a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.”
“In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the signatories charged.
They argued that Ryan is misusing the principle of subsidiarity as “a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices.”
Ryan has responded to similar charges in recent weeks, explaining that building a strong economy is the best way to help the poor and clarifying that he favors lowering taxes for everyone rather than just the wealthy.
In his April 26 talk, he also said that his suggestions for reforming welfare are not based on a desire to abandon the poor, but rather to fix a broken system that is “failing the very citizens who need help the most.”
“As we end welfare for those who don’t need it, we strengthen welfare programs for those who do,” he explained.
Ryan said that he does his best to adhere to Catholic social doctrine in his role as a public office holder.
He explained that “there can be differences among faithful Catholics” on how to best apply Catholic principles to the problems facing the nation.
Today, the “defining challenge” facing America is “the exploding federal debt,” he said. How to best address this problem “is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ.”
The impact of budget decisions on the poor and vulnerable was the subject of a recent series of letters from Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, who heads the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, to members of Congress. The bishop voiced concerns about certain elements of the proposed budget and urged consideration of its impact on the most needy.
Ryan acknowledged a pressing need to consider the poor, who “would be hurt the first and the worst” by a debt crisis. However, he added, “I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.”
He explained that heavy reliance on the federal government to provide for the poor is ineffective and actually ends up hurting those whom it aims to help.
For example, he said, the “government-centered approach to the war on poverty” has resulted in the highest poverty rates in a generation, with one in six Americans currently living in poverty.
The Congressman argued that the federal government is not the only way for people to work together to aid those in need.
Instead, he said, there is a need to “empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals – those closest to the problem.”
These other charitable and civic groups play an important role in aiding the needy in society, he said.
Ryan noted that his budget tries to implement the “twin pillars” of solidarity and subsidiarity, two important principles of Catholic social teaching.
He described solidarity as “the virtue that does not divide society into classes and groups but builds up the common good of all.”
Subsidiarity can be put into practice by relying upon “government and institutions closest to the people,” he added, explaining that this ensures real “human interaction.”
Rather than a distant federal bureaucrat providing aid, “it’s a human being that knows you, that knows your problems, that looks you in the eyes and sees the suffering that you’re experiencing,” he said.