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Public Theology: The Republican Attack on the Most Vulnerable
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The Republican Attack on the Most Vulnerable
A policy studies expert writes to his fellow Catholic, John Boehner, to tell him that cutting life-saving programs for the poor while reducing taxes for the rich is immoral.

By Stephen F. Schneck

The political cartoon is by George Hall who was previously a syndicated cartoonist and current circumstances have rekindled his interest in political cartooning.

Along with more than 70 professors and theologians from Catholic universities, I recently wrote a public letter to House Speaker John Boehner that questioned how he squares core teachings of his Catholic faith with policies he supports that hurt the poor. I urged Rep. Boehner to stand with his Catholic bishops who along with other religious leaders have supported a Circle of Protection campaign to defend vital programs that serve the most vulnerable from massive budget cuts.

While the letter received major national media coverage as Rep. Boehner gave the commencement address at Catholic University in Washington, Iím disappointed that the Speaker and others who endorsed the House budget have failed to address our core argument. A budget that takes food from the poor, breaks our promise to the elderly and undermines pro-life values by cutting life-saving programs that help pregnant women, new mothers and children is immoral. Those who defended Rep. Boehner and the GOP budget argue that private charities or state governments can more efficiently help low-income Americans. But Iíve yet to see a convincing argument for how state and local responses could make up for a fundamental dismantling of our nationís social safety net. The Wall Street Journal reported just this week that 22 states made cuts to public aid programs in 2010, according to a survey from the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers.

At a time when struggling Americans need policies that serve the common good, political leaders are making choices that reflect grossly distorted values. Cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program that the House Appropriations Committee approved would force the program to turn away 200,000 to 350,000 eligible low-income women and children next year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) faces $2 billion in cuts. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program would be slashed by 22 percent next year, which means a loss of food for well over 100,000 low-income seniors. The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides emergency sustenance to shelters serving the poor across the country, would be gutted. These are not simply abstract numbers on a page. They will mean real hunger for American children, mothers and the elderly. Emergency food pantries are already overwhelmed, and even formerly middle-class families are turning to local charities already strained to the breaking point. Itís inconceivable that charitable giving, no matter how generous, could come close to making up for this loss.

While these budget proposals are shocking, itís also discouraging to hear little more than silence from the White House. With campaign season approaching and poll numbers slipping, the Obama administration seems to speak loudly about the middle class but only mumble about the poor. Our nationís diverse faith communities, thankfully, have not mumbled. From all denominations, religious leaders are challenging Congress to pass a moral budget that doesnít provide tax breaks for the rich at the expense of the poor. As a Roman Catholic, Iím proud of the leadership of my bishops. Religious organizations are on the front lines in caring for the most vulnerable. They realize whatís at risk by eviscerating federal food programs when needs are more pressing than at any time in last forty years. I urge all members of Congress to join with our nationís faith leaders by endorsing the Circle of Protection.

We need fiscal prudence to tackle budget deficits. But it's immoral to increase hunger in America when other options are available. At the very least, it's reasonable to avoid any cuts to food assistance until charities, states and local governments are in a stronger position to respond. Surely, this is common ground for compassionate conservatives and progressives on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Letís reign in wasteful spending, end irresponsible tax breaks for the rich and make smart budget choices that reflect our nationís highest ideals. Donít vote to starve the poor.

Stephen F. Schneck is the Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. This article appeared at The Hill.

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Date Added: 6/13/2011 Date Revised: 6/13/2011 1:20:21 PM

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