The U.S. bishops have responded to President Barack Obama's 2014 budget proposal with a call to give high priority to funding for those in need.
“As persistently high poverty and unemployment plague our nation, and war and crushing poverty tear families apart around the world, a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts to programs that help people live in a manner worthy of their human dignity,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif. and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa said in an April 22 letter to members of Congress.
Bishop Blaire chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, while Bishop Pates chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace.
“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, and poor are treated,” the bishops said.
“Their voices are too often missing, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.”
President Obama proposed a $3.77 trillion budget for 2014 on April 10, amid continued congressional debate over various scenarios.
Democratic leaders have offered proposals to build the economy through new government spending on job training and economic stimulus measures, while closing loopholes to increase tax revenue. They have argued against reducing the deficit through significant spending cuts to social aid programs.
Top Republicans have countered that the cuts to spending in their plan – including spending on social aid programs – are justified because the plan would balance the budget and boost the economy, resulting in greater job creation and reducing the need for people to participate in aid programs. They also contend that many social aid programs can be run effectively on less money by transferring authority from the federal to state level or instating other reform measures.
In their letter, the bishops emphasized that budget decisions should be measured by whether they protect or threaten human life and dignity.
“The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first,” they continued, calling upon government and other institutions to “promote the common good of all.”
The bishops said this responsibility especially concerns “ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.”
They called for a “circle of protection” around the poor and vulnerable and “shared sacrifice by all.” The bishops said a just budget requires raising adequate revenues, ending unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing “fairly” the long-term costs of health
However, they said that proposed limits on income tax deductions could unintentionally harm charitable giving and adversely affect Catholic organizations that help serve those in need.
The bishops praised the president’s concern for those living in or near poverty. They also lauded programs they said strengthen the family and decrease child poverty.
But they lamented “deeply troubling” reductions for disaster assistance, citing growing humanitarian need in places like Syria. they also opposed proposed cuts to anti-nuclear proliferation programs.
They also urged “robust funding” for international programs for HIV/AIDS treatment, maternal and child health, development and refugee services.
“The bishops stand ready 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,” Bishops Blaire and Pates said.