Mitt Romney told CNN this morning that "I'm not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there." He'll probably want to bet $10,000 to prove me wrong, but we aren't doing enough to fight poverty and Romney's proposed economic agenda -- a mirror image of the policies of George W. Bush that caused poverty to skyrocket -- will hurt our nation. We should all be concerned.
The non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently noted that, "Governor Romney's budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021."
That means deep cuts for food assistance to families, affordable housing for seniors and education for low-income children. Romney's proposals are deeply troubling. More so because he seems to live in a fantasy world where those living in poverty are already having all their needs met.
But talk to social service providers and faith-based groups -- or working families who are struggling to get by in the aftermath of the Bush presidency and the refusal of the GOP House to pass reasonable legislation, such as President Obama's American Jobs Act -- and you'll hear story after story about people being turned away from aid because it doesn't exist. There is real suffering in not being able to feed your child.
As Faith in Public Life has noted, it stands to get worse because of GOP economic malpractice.
Constrained by the limits of the shameful 2011 debt-ceiling budget deal, the Obama Administration is warning progressive groups that they won't appreciate the cuts facing human needs programs. Community health centers, childcare assistance and anti-hunger programs (to name a few) stand to be severely impacted by cuts in 2013. The potential consequences of these cuts cannot be underestimated and many difficult moral decisions lie ahead for policymakers.
It's important to remember that we're in this situation because Congressional Republicans threatened to crash the economy on purpose if the White House didn't agree to draconian cuts. Nonetheless, leaders of both parties must be held accountable for their moral (or immoral) budget priorities.
President Obama's heroic efforts in getting his original stimulus plan passed kept more than 30 million Americans from falling into poverty (or into deeper poverty). What is needed now is a plan from both parties to dramatically reduce poverty.
Mitt Romney doesn't worry about those living in poverty. But as a minister in the United Church of Christ, I would argue it is our moral responsibility to worry about the future of every American. That is particularly true of those most vulnerable in our society, people Jesus would have called the "least of these."