The Republican Party opposes the continual escalation of government with a passion. (The consistency of this stance is debatable historically but I’m not addressing this matter in this particular post.) How will we stop the ever rising debt that we have created and save our federal government from financial collapse? The answer, if we are honest, is anyone’s guess. Both parties have delayed for so long that the dangers are profoundly real. They will not go away this week or next. One scenario has us bailing out on our debt. Others have towns and cities, even states, going into bankruptcy. What this will do is almost beyond imagination. I personally stand to lose my small pension and be very adversely impacted.

Having said this I cannot agree with the irresponsible way many in the GOP speak about cutting certain social services for the poor. Let me explain.

index About 60% of the elderly in nursing care rely on Medicaid to pay for their services. And at the beginning of life about one-third of all births are covered by Medicaid. I have a forthcoming blog, in a few days, about the concerns of a consistent pro-life position. Somehow I cannot grasp how cutting this needed support will help to save lives! To defend pro-life and cut essential services for the poorest Americans seems inconsistent to my mind.

When I listen to some conservatives talk about cutting government spending I wonder if some of them actually know any really poor people. What about those who need help to feed their children and food stamps are a lifeline? And what about special-needs kids who have a divorced mom who cares for them? They could not make it without the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance the government provides. These people are our neighbors. A society that allows them to fall into deeper poverty, and their children to not get basic assistance, is one that cares very little about justice or mercy. I personally do not want to live in such a society.

When the GOP talks about cutting government programs I urge you to ask, “How many of these important programs are involved in these cuts?” Yes, the economic reality of the moment is grim. And one in seven Americans is living in poverty. Religious and other charities are in deep trouble and cannot do the whole work that is needed. Food banks report as much as a 50% shortage right now.

In a recent appeal to deal with the present budget crisis Rep. Paul Ryan (R. WI), who is a Catholic, suggested that we cut food stamps by 20%, which some estimate would turn away as many as 450,000 poor women and children from WIC nutrition assistance. The plans offered over the past few weeks by various GOP leaders would also cut as much as $1.5 trillion from Medicaid payments, again based on some reports. The same plans speak strongly about tax-cuts that would include as much as $3 trillion for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Look, I am well aware that we need real economic stimulus and this means helping business. (I especially want to help small-business, which is till the backbone of our economy!) I am thus opposed to almost all additional taxation, again for reasons that relate to how you can actually improve an economy. I am persuaded that President Obama’s forms of stimulus have done little or nothing to help us recover. But must we solve our current problems by hurting the most needy among us? Listening to some of my most conservative friends this sounds exactly like what they do believe.

The standard conservative line is that government aid programs trap people in a poverty cycle and this will not provide them what they truly need – a good job. On a certain level I agree, if the person can be trained and helped to get a job. But on another level I think we dare not solve the bigger problems that we face by hurting the poor even more in the process. Somehow we must see that this doesn’t serve the best interests of the weakest people in our country.

The church preaches a message of love. Love is caritas, or sacrifice. The question here is simple and complex: How does caritas inform government and social services? Some seem to think that it has nothing to do with it at all. I am not among them even though I am such a strong advocate of the “free market” and deeply oppose socialism as an economic model.

Clearly, we must address the national debt. We have put this off for too long. But I am deeply suspicious of both parties at this point. We had some outstanding ideas offered from a non-partisan committee that both parties rejected months ago. (I wrote about this at the time too.) I do not see either party really serious about the problems we currently face. They both seem intent on winning the next election so they posture accordingly.

My point, however, is that it is wrong to use this present crisis to destroy the public safety nets that are already in place to assist the genuinely poor. Could some wealthier citizens forego new/old tax breaks to help those who have almost nothing? Could we seriously trim the breaks that we afford to many in the upper 2% of our society? At risk moms and children deserve more from those who call themselves Christians, regardless of their party affiliation.

schneck Stephen Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, urges Catholics to write letters to Congress to remind our legislators of three things:

1. Budgets must protect human life and dignity.

2. Needs of the hungry and homeless, those without work or poor, should come first.

3. Government and other institutions have a responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families struggling to live in dignity in difficult times.

I find those three appeals a simple basic expression of caritas. Can Christians argue otherwise and not compromise the very nature of what they profess in public?

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  1. John Ross July 25, 2011 at 5:06 am

    John, thanks for this. I think your outlook is soundly Christian and your hopes for a compassionate civil society eminently reasonable, though maybe unwelcome to an overly individualistic society. Although, in UK terms, my politics are generally conservative, I have always believed that a welfare state is a sign of a civilised nation and that there should be a national health service accessible by all and free at the point of delivery. The problem with the ‘trickle down’ argument, often promoted by the recipients of huge salaries and big bonuses, is that it doesn’t trickle down deep enough.
    But the problem is not only national. As Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, said the other day, much to the annoyance of the “aid sceptics” in his party, it is a fundamental immorality when nations find funds to bail out ailing banks, but do little to relieve the starving on the Horn of Africa. Although, as Cameron pointed out, it is essential that aid money be monitored carefully to see that it is not wasted by falling into the wrong hands. I’m glad to see Britain is pledged to increase its aid budget this year by £12 billion UK billion, that is.

  2. George C July 25, 2011 at 10:25 am

    You are presenting a strawman type argument, John.
    I seriously doubt you can find a single Republican that is saying that, as a society, we should forget about the poor and needy.
    Many people who are for cutting social programs are just arguing for dealing with the needs of these people without the use or with less government involvement. They generally think private charities and individuals do the job better.
    That may be an mistake in judgement, but it is not a lack of compassion or conscern towards the needy. I would be slower to attribute something to a moral lack that can just as easily be explained by wrong thinking.
    You are also making way too much of judging society based on how our government acts and how we vote.
    Somewhere around 50% people don’t vote at all and it doesn’t take too much to realize that many who do have very little idea of the consequenses of their vote. many who do vote “intellegently” wind up very disappointed in the results of getting their canidate in office.
    The people and values of our government wind up reflecting very little of the values of the people they are supposed to represent.
    Among those who are typically voting for preservation and increases of social programs you will find that those who do are quite often only voting in their own self interests and also voting that someone else be the one to make the sacrifices necessary. Neither of these qualify as compassion, justice, or sacrifice.
    You would do better to show that government programs for the the needy are absolutely necessary and that the government forcing people who often disagree with the means is justified rather that making the assumption that it is a lack of love that is motivating peoples’ stance on the issue.

  3. John H. Armstrong July 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Reading the details of Paul Ryan’s arguments reveals quite plainly what I suggest here thus I do not see this as a “straw man” argument. The GOP wants to cut real money from real programs that the abject poor desperately need. We need to continually reform such programs but I am not writing about reform. I am addressing their willingness to cut money in the budget from the poor at a time when it is even more needed than ever.

  4. Chris Criminger July 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Hi John and all,
    Well on another note, I am thinking that the mess we are in as a nation is so bad off financially, that two things will have to happen:
    1. Make large cuts in spending (but like you John, the poor need it the most so let’s be very careful in this area).
    2. Raise taxes . . .
    Since both parties seem to be polarized in presenting one side and against the other, I suspect things will continue to go down hill from here (I hope I am wrong).
    Shalom – Chris
    PS –

  5. John H. Armstrong July 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    At lunch today a pastor friend shared how his family benefits from Medicaid because of the struggle with autism they experience with a child. Because of this social service from the government they receive very important help that is jeopardized by cuts. Because I meet with people who need such help regularly I see more reason than ever to not cut “essential” care in such a wealthy country. We can cut the budget, especially if we had a realistic view of the military’s role, and retain vital services. We can also deal with tax reform too but we seem to have no will to do all of this. Soon we will have no choice and then the poor will suffer even more. I fear what kind of society we will become at that point.

  6. sowarrior July 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Two quotes are appropriate for this discussion.
    1. (a paraphrase from Churchill) – If one is not a liberal when he is 20 he has no heart, if he is still a liberal when he is 40 he has no brain.
    2. A liberal is someone who is generous with other people’s money.
    I think it has been fairly well shown that conservatives are more generous than are liberals. That may be because conservatives tend to be more religious while liberals tend to be more secular, but it remains true. If you don’t believe it just notice that Americans are far more generous than Western Europeans (and far more conservative as well).
    I volunteer in my hometown at a homeless shelter for single women and families. We also run a day shelter for homeless men and will soon be opening a homeless shelter for single men in a neighboring town. We take NO FUNDS from Uncle Sam. The founders of the shelter are all supportive of the local tea party movement.
    Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t make Peter a generous person (nor the robber or anyone who supports the robber).

  7. sowarrior July 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I think his point is that the GOP wants to cut taxpayer (or borrowed, which will eventually be taxpayer) money from government programs. Generally speaking conservatives are more generous than liberals. Liberals however are more generous with other people’s money than conservatives.

  8. Anthony July 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    John – First, thanks for this post. I am not sure how to identify myself politically, but I think that on the whole my instincts are conservative, and if this is true it is a conservatism that it tempered by a biblical vision of grace and justice, which is what I saw you expressing in this post.
    Second, perhaps I generalize too much, but I often hear conservatives talk about how the poor abuse welfare and the fact that welfare structures enable the poor and undermine their initiative to seek a better life. I don’t doubt that to some degree this is true, but it seems wrong headed to use this dynamic as a blanket rationale to shrink or get rid of welfare programs. And for those who profess Christ, I particularly think it is an inconsistent position to have as all of us who live by faith are freely lifted out of our spiritual and moral poverty through the riches of Jesus Christ. Of course a big part of the debate regarding welfare is about the proper role of government in alleviating poverty, and honestly I am not sure how to respond to this matter except to say that in the Old Testament God did establish social structures to prevent people from going into poverty. In saying this I realize I am now getting into hermeneutics, which is a relatively complex matter, but nonetheless I think there is something we can draw upon from this as we work out our convictions about how government should be involved in alleviating injustice.
    Finally, I will say that we are endowed by God to create the structures the create us, which is to say that we need to be intentional and conscientious about the structures we create as they shape our humanity. We are culture creators. Part of what this means is that the structures we put in place are apt to have a greater effect in addressing the problems of poverty than mere personal initiative, particularly as personal initiative (both in living a responsible life and in being generous towards others) is shaped in a social context.

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