My Struggle with The GOP’s Hard Stance on Social Services

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs, Economy/Economics, Politics, Poverty

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?