Friday, May 27, 2011
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has written a letter to Rep. Paul Ryan that was interpreted in many circles as supporting the Ryan House budget, a budget that supports the rich at the expense of the poor. For a discussion of the various positions taken by Catholic blogs, see Mark Silk’s discussion at Spiritual Politics. In an update, Silk mentions that Michael Sean Winters tells us all we need to know in the New Republic about this issue.
The essay by Winters contains a rich discussion about Dolan and Church politics. Winters concludes, “Dolan will not stand by while the GOP eviscerates those programs that assist the poor and the vulnerable. The Catholic Church, with its vast array of hospitals, shelters, and schools, knows firsthand how nutritional and educational and health programs really do make a difference in the lives of the poor. Most importantly, at the heart of the Church is a gospel that instructs the faithful to care for ‘the least of these’ and sets such care as the price of admission to sanctity and to heaven. No matter how Paul Ryan tries to convince himself that Rome and Rand can be reconciled, they can’t. Ayn Rand despised the poor. The Church is called to treasure them.”
But Winters also observes that “Traditionally, the Catholic Church has been a strong advocate for the poorest sections of society and the social welfare programs designed by government to provide for them. But for years, conservatives have been trying to undo this stance.” Despite the conservative efforts, the U.S. Bishops have continued to lobby against the House budget and to argue that the budget should not be balanced “on the backs of the poor.” Despite this, Winters suggests that Dolan feels some pressure to make those on the left and the right feel comfortable. Winters does not discuss why Dolan feels this pressure or where the pressure comes from. Yes, Michael Novak and other conservatives have argued against a strong governmental role, but Novak’s power comes, if and only if, it resonates with a powerful force among the Bishops. The Bishops have been prepared to ride roughshod over liberals on issues that the Bishops feel strongly about. If the Bishops have been prepared to lobby in ways that are critical of conservative policy, why does Dolan feel pressure to speak in more muffled terms in a more public setting?
Although Winters’s discussion of the politics is rich, I come away disagreeing with Silk: Winters does not tell us all we need to know.
In discussing Ryan’s budget, Rick Garnett says, “One does not have to like Ayn Rand (and I don't), or to be a "Catholic neo-con", to think that (a) it is both profoundly immoral and stupid to continue accumulating debt burdens at our current rates, (b) deep cuts in spending are required, and (c) these cuts require more than the usual promises of increased attention to "waste, fraud, and abuse" and "corporate loopholes" and will have to touch popular social-welfare programs (and defense spending). Winters is right, of course, to say that Rand's vision is less attractive (because it is unsound) than is Pope Benedict's; but this fact does not eliminate the need to attend more seriously than, say, Sen. Reid has been willing to do to the need to cut spending and to design carefully any tax increases so as to avoid stunting growth.”
I agree with Rick that our accumulation of debt is unsustainable at current rates (though I think spending cuts in the middle of a recession are dangerous - see discussions by Reich and Krugman). I agree that not a lot of money is to be found in combating “waste, fraud, and abuse.” I primarily regret that it is not possible for politicians (despite Commission reports) to have a serious debate about how to reduce the debt.
Republicans with few noble exceptions generally refuse to entertain discussion of tax increases, elimination of corporate loopholes (despite Rick’s implication, there is a lot of money here; the question is what implications for the economy would there be in closing them – an issue that should be looked at on a case-by-case basis), and serious reduction of defense spending. Democrats refuse to entertain the possibility that some parts of social welfare programs need to be adjusted to cut costs and they themselves have also been captured by corporations (though often different corporations than the Republicans), and they have hardly distinguished themselves in calling for defense cuts or the kind of tax increases needed (in the long run tax increases for the middle class will be needed - a lot of money can come from the rich, but not enough and spending cuts will not suffice).
I do not agree (Rick did not directly speak to this), however, that support of the poor needs to be reduced in order to balance the budget. I think the Catholic Bishops are right in opposing the balancing of the budget on the backs of the poor.