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President Obama attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget as “nothing but thinly veiled Social Darwinism.” That is not surprising. What is surprising is that the chairman of a major committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a similar scathing attack against Ryan, a faithful Catholic who says his budget work is informed and guided by the social teaching of the Church.
Using Obama’s campaign rhetoric, Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, recently wrote to Congress declaring that Ryan’s budget “fails to meet [the Church’s] moral criteria” because it does not require “shared sacrifice,” which Blaire [like Obama] defines as tax increases and cuts to “unnecessary” defense spending. Some of the proposed spending cuts in Ryan’s budget, Blaire said, are “unjust and wrong.”
“Blaire has it backward. What is ‘unjust and wrong’ is this bishop’s attack on a good Catholic layman.” -Marc A. Thiessen
Blaire has it backward. What is “unjust and wrong” is this bishop’s attack on a good Catholic layman.
Put aside for a moment the fact that “shared sacrifice” appears nowhere in the catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a reelection slogan for the Democratic Party. Put aside, as well, the fact that the bishop of Stockton, Calif., has near-zero competence to judge what military spending is necessary or unnecessary. The fact is Ryan’s budget does not cut spending at all — 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?
Ryan’s budget can only be viewed as a “cut” when compared with the unprecedented levels of spending unleashed by President Obama, who has increased our national debt by more than $4 trillion in just 31 months — a new land-speed record for fiscal profligacy. In criticizing Ryan’s spending “cuts,” Bishop Blaire is effectively arguing that these unsustainable spending increases under Barack Obama are the new floor for what constitutes “social justice.” In this view, even a 20 percent increase in spending relative to 2008 is a violation of the “moral criteria” of the Catholic Church. That is ridiculous.
Ryan points out that the country is headed toward a catastrophic debt crisis that would “hurt the poor the first and the worst.” He says his goal is to “lift this crushing burden of debt, and repair our broken safety net” — and in defense of this objective, he cites none other than Pope Benedict XVI. In his interview book, “Light of the World,” Pope Benedict was asked whether the unprecedented debt in the U.S. and other countries — the interest payments on which alone would be enough to provide food for a year for all the children in developing countries — wasn’t an “insanely big moral problem?” The Holy Father replied, “Naturally, because we are living at the expense of future generations. In this respect it is plain that we are living in untruth.” Benedict declared that “huge debts are … treated as something that we are simply entitled to,” and that to confront this problem “a global examination of conscience is indispensable.”
Ryan is attempting to force such an examination of conscience in Washington. He has gone out of his way to engage the bishops in a dialogue over the best ways to fix the soon-to-be-bankrupt social safety net, using the Catholic principles of “subsidiarity, solidarity and local control.” In a letter last year to then-New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops conference, Ryan cited Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, in which the late pope noted that “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”
“The preferential option for the poor,” Ryan says, should not mean “a preferential option for big government.” After the recent federal assault on religious liberty, the bishops should appreciate the destructive power of big government. They should also appreciate the fact that the chairman of the committee crafting the Republican Party’s budget is a man of faith who is working to address the problems of poverty and our nation’s debt, so we can ensure we are not living, in Pope Benedict’s words, in “untruth” and “at the expense of future generations.”
Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI.
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