Paul Ryan has famously (or infamously ?)  claimed that the budget he proposed for the next fiscal year is a product of his encounter with Roman Catholic social teaching .

The bishop who heads the USCCB committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development disagrees :

  As pastors and teachers, we remind Congress that these are economic, political and moral choices with human consequences. Prior to the House considering the budget resolution, the bishops offered several moral criteria to guide these difficult 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.

Congress faces a difficult task to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs. The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.

Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen and Acton Institute President Rev. Robert Sirico have come to Ryan’s defense.  Here’s Thiessen:
The fact is Ryan’s budget does not cut spending at al— it simply slows the growth of spending. As Ryan explained in an interview on the Catholic Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), “our budget increases annual spending by 3 percent a year instead of the president’s proposal to go to 4 ½ percent a year.”

To put that into perspective, Jeff Rosen, a former official in the Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget, points out the final budgets submitted by President George W. Bush projected spending of $3.22 trillion in 2012 and $3.34 trillion in 2013. Ryan’s budget, by contrast , calls for spending of $3.6 trillion in 2012 and $3.53 trillion in 2013. So Ryan’s budget is higher than Bush’s projections for 2012 and for 2013. In fact, since actual spending in 2008 was $2.98 trillion, Ryan’s budget represents a 20 percent increase in spending in 2012—higher than inflation from 2008 to 2012. How is that cruel and heartless?

And here’s Rev. Sirico:
 The operating paradigm [of those who have been critical of the Ryan budget] is that there is a static amount of wealth in the world and that the essential moral undertaking is to find ways to redistribute that to ensure the well-being of the poor. That is their essential worldview. What I’m saying, what I think Ryan is trying to say, and I’m not a Republican by the way, is that wealth is dynamic. You can create more of it and if you do that, then it is not a question of dividing up the pie, but growing the pie. It is all the difference in the world between an economic view that is zero-sum and economic view of the world that is creative and dynamic.

It’s also worth considering the relevant postions of Ryan’s budget proposal :

From a budgetary perspective, these programs are growing at an unsustainable rate.  The recent economic downturn greatly increased the eligibility and the demand for government assistance programs.  Yet even prior to the 2008 financial crisis, and controlling for economic performance, there has been a dramatic increase in government spending on public assistance programs. Medicaid spending grows, on average, 9 percent a year – far faster than the growth of the overall economy.  And fderal spending on food stamps has quadrupled over the past ten years.  Unless reforms are enacted to put these programs on sustainable footing, these skyrocketing rates of spending will threaten the safety net with a debt crisis that leads to  forced austerity.

I don’t want to oversimplify these difficult matters, but should we not be asking seriously how best to assure that there are adequate resources for all—especially the least among us—to enjoy, while also continuing to fulfill the fundamental governmental responsibilties, for example,  for national security?  I lack the expertise to know precisely which mixture of taxing and spending will do the most for the most vulnerable, but I do know that our current deficits are unsustainable, that economic growth is an important contributor to providing resources and opportunities for as many people as possible, and that there are reasons to believe that tax increases are quite limited in what they can contribute to this goal.  I also strongly suspect, with Rev. Sirico, that the more government does, the less pressure we feel to do, which strikes me as problematical from the point of view of subsidiarity.

Let’s stop the easy moralistic posturing.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg


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