In an era of historic poverty that features 46 million Americans living below the poverty line, House Republican Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) finds himself on defense with Catholic leaders. In early April, Ryan appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network and said his Catholic faith guided him in creating the House GOP budget.
Catholics leaders strongly disagree.
“These cuts are unjustified and wrong,” said the Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter slamming Ryan’s budget for cutting poverty programs. The Bishops wrote House GOP leaders saying the budget plan lacked, “moral criteria.”
Still, Ryan’s budget passed the House on March 29th.
The Ryan budget plan cuts food stamps by $134 billion over 10 years and would eliminate 280,000 children from a free school lunch and breakfast program. It would also cut 1.5 million Americans off of food stamps. At the same time, the budget maintains tax breaks for multi-million dollar estates for the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans. The tax breaks add 11.5 billion to the debt and benefits 3,300 estates in the U.S.
Ryan’s budget ideas arrive in the midst of historic poverty in America. Poverty numbers jumped 14% from 2009 to 2011. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the U.S. has a record 46.2 million people in poverty — a 52 year high. Accordingly a record number of Americans are on food stamps, over 46 million, and that number is increasing even as the economy improves.
Agreeing with the Catholic Bishops, 86 members of the Georgetown University faculty also took Ryan to task before he spoke there recently. They complained about his claim that his budget was consistent with Catholic teachings, countering that “… continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families,” bothered them. They said Ryan’s budget, “radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest.”
After years of Catholic Democrats taking hits for supporting policies counter to church teachings the script has suddenly flipped and Ryan is on defense on the issue of poverty.
“The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it,” Ryan said at Georgetown University on Feb. 26th. “What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day,” he added.
“The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’ and ‘living in untruth,” Ryan said during his speech. The national debt was $10.6 trillion when President Bush left office is 2009. Ryan voted for the extension of the Bush tax cuts in late 2010 and maintains them in his current budget plan. Extending the Bush tax cuts adds $1 trillion to the debt over 10 years. The current national debt is $15 trillion.
Ryan also voted in March for The JOBS Act sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a way to help small businesses. It was supported by the White House and signed by President Obama on April 4. That legislation added $46 billion to the deficit and was opposed by the AFL-CIO as another tax loophole for millionaires. Ten House Republicans voted against the legislation because it increased the national debt.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that 62% of the cuts in the Ryan Budget come from poverty programs for low-income Americans and 37% of the tax breaks in the Ryan plan go to Americans earning more than $1 million – that’s about 235,000 people.
Ryan’s Budget also contains a provision making it more difficult for low income students to qualify for Pell Grants. His budget would reduce the maximum grant by $845 or 15%. Low income students would be effected as Pell grant awards would be cut by $170 billion over 1o years. Ryan’s budget would also raise the student loan interest rate from 3.4% to 6.8%. The House will vote on the reduction issue on Friday.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WHUR and WPFW in Washington DC. You can e-mail her at LBurke007@gmail.com follow her on twitter at @crewof42.