The debt ceiling debate demonstrated the partisan, ideological, and dysfunctional polarization that dominates Washington. While the crisis of default was averted, this political spectacle was disappointing, ominous, and just a beginning. As advocates of poor and vulnerable people, people of faith are greatly concerned for their future.
There is good news: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is leading an effort to bring together Christian leaders and communities to advocate a common moral principle and a unifying priority: protect and improve the programs that safeguard the lives and dignity of those who are poor and vulnerable in our own nation and in the poorest places on earth.
This Circle of Protection
is a focused, effective, and faithful vehicle for delivering a common message to diverse leaders and communities.
Their message is a clear one of fiscal responsibility and moral priority. The message is a faithful reflection of Scriptural mandates and Catholic teaching. Through a series of letters, visits, and action alerts, faith leaders are emphasizing moral responsibility to put the nation’s fiscal house in order: to reduce unsustainable deficits and future debt, but to do so in ways that protect human life and dignity, especially among “the least of these”(Matthew 25).
As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice… We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people……A fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
But there is bad news: This legislation will require major cuts to discretionary programs, including and especially programs which serve those who are poor and vulnerable.
In the Committee’s deliberations on how to reduce the deficit, all programs could be cut. These include international development and other poverty-focused programs, with all their human costs and moral implications. Faith leaders also expect to see proposals to reduce federal spending for Medicaid and probably food stamps (SNAP).
As is well known, there are no revenue increases of any kind, and the debates over tax and entitlement reforms were put off and referred to the special Congressional committee, which may simply reflect the continuing demands of special interests and Congressional factions.
There is still too little attention on how these decisions affect “the least among us.” In August and throughout the fall, we will need to raise our voices and make our case that it would be wrong to further cut programs that serve those with the greatest needs in our own country and around the world.
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. Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development