The Bishops Were Wrong on the Ryan Budget

In the wake of the selection of Paul Ryan as the VP nominee, you will be hearing a lot about how Ryan is a bad Catholic because the Bishops criticized the Ryan budget plan.

Let me cut to the chase: the USCCB was wrong (at least part of it).

The text of the letter issued by the Bishops gets the basics wrong and completely ignores the immorality of continued debt. They say:

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On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs. The committee has been instructed to reduce agricultural programs by an additional $33.2 billion. In allocating these reductions, the committee should protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises. Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong. If cuts are necessary, the committee should first look towards reducing and targeting commodity and subsidy programs that disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness

Except those draconian cuts they fear are not cuts at all, but reductions in growth from the projected baseline budgeting planned growth. To suggest that these are real cuts is disingenuous political speak beneath the dignity of the conference.

Further, this letter does not address the real problems facing America, rather the Bishops sit on their high horses while simultaneously sticking their heads in the sand.

This massive accumulating debt has real consequences, and those consequences will be disastrous for the very poor the USCCB is concerned about.

If we continue to spend the way we are, we will have a Greek-style economy sooner rather than later, and with massive unemployment and massive shrinkage of the economy, where will the poor be then?

Ryan’s budget is just a modest (too modest maybe) step in the right direction to try and prevent America (and America’s poor) from going over the fiscal cliff. He should be applauded by the Bishops instead of scolded.

This letter was beneath the dignity of the USCCB and was widely considered merely a product of that body’s reflexive leftist tilt.

The bottom line, Ryan is right and the Bishops are wrong to frame the discussion the way they did. And I am not the only one who thinks so, so do a lot of the Bishops. At their June meeting, we had these remarks.

“There have been some concerns raised by lay Catholics, especially some Catholic economists, about what was perceived as a partisan action against Congressman Ryan and the budget he had proposed,” Bishop Boyea said in reference to the USCCB committee’s opposition to the House budget plan. “We need to be articulate only in principles, and let the laity make these applications … It was perceived as partisan, and thus didn’t really further dialogue in our deeply divided country.”

“I’m not sure that we have the humility yet not to stray into areas where we lack competence, and where we need to let the laity take the lead,” he added. “We need to learn far more than we need to teach in this area. We need to listen more than we need to speak. We already have an excellent, fine Compendium [on the Social Doctrine of the Church].”

Echoing Bishop Boyea’s comments, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City said that the committee is “at times perceived as partisan” and needs to consider the principle of subsidiarity, which has been “neglected in past documents.” Archbishop Naumann added that solutions that place emphasis in enrolling people in government programs have been “tried for decades” and failed.

“We need to talk about the debt and the real seriousness of that debt,” he continued. “Sometimes we’re perceived as just encouraging the government to spend more money with no realistic way of how we’re going to afford to do this.”

Amen and amen.

This article first appeared in the National Catholic Register on Saturday, August 11, 2012 and is reprinted with permission. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)


  • Patrick Archbold

    Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company. Patrick, his wife Terri, and their five children reside in Long Island, N.Y.

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