US bishops urge lawmakers to remember poor in budget debate

Speaker Boehner delivers a national address on Republicans' plan to cut spending and prevent default on July 25, 2011. Credit: SpeakerBoehner
Speaker Boehner delivers a national address on Republicans' plan to cut spending and prevent default on July 25, 2011. Credit: SpeakerBoehner

.- In the midst of increasingly fierce budget debates, the U.S. bishops are urging lawmakers to look beyond partisan bickering and take into account the poor and vulnerable when deciding which funds get cut.

“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,” the bishops wrote in a July 26 letter to all U.S. representatives.

“Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.”

Only six days remain before the Aug. 2 deadline, which financial experts say could bring a government default if congressional leaders can't agree to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

The Congressional Budget Office ruled July 26 that Speaker Boehner's plan would save an estimated $850 billion instead of about $1 trillion, and Sen. Reid's plan would realize a projected savings from $2.2 trillion  over 10 years, instead of his original $2.7 trillion projection.

The Speaker's projected savings are less than Sen. Reid’s, since his proposal would raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit in two stages and would defer cuts to costly entitlement programs until later.

The debates coupled with the failure on the part of congressional leaders to reach an agreement  have left financial markets on edge.

In their Tuesday letter, the U.S. bishops pointed to the moral dimension of the budget debate, saying that  every decision “should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.”

They said that the government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good, especially for ordinary workers and families who are struggling though the economic crisis.

“A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” the bishops wrote.

Rather, it “requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.”

The Church leaders also expressed fear over the “human and social costs” of substantial cuts to programs that serve impoverished families, child development and education, and affordable housing.

“We also fear the costs of undermining international assistance which is an essential tool to promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poorer nations, and enhance global security,” they said.

The bishops criticized Speaker Boehner's proposal, claiming that it would require “massive cuts” to programs such as disease fighting drugs, assistance to poor farmers and orphans, food aid for the nation's hungry, aid to victims of natural disasters and help to international refugees.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States continue to 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.”

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