Now that Mitt Romney has picked Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, the choice could not be clearer for voters in November. Ryan is the author of a radical budget plan that passed the House of Representatives in April and now constitutes Mitt Romney's economic platform.
The Ryan-Romney budget is based on a number of false and dangerous notions: that an unfettered free market can provide us all we need, that slashing critical programs for struggling families while cutting taxes for the rich will make us all stronger, and that ruthless individualism and selfishness trump community.
Not surprisingly, faith leaders condemned the Ryan budget -- and the philosophy behind it -- when it was first introduced in the House of Representatives last year. They intensified their criticism when the House passed the Ryan budget this spring. Now that Ryan's budget has become Romney's governing plan, we can expect faith leaders to speak out even more forcefully during the campaign as they document the disastrous impact Ryan-Romney budget cuts would have in communities across the country, on our economy as a whole, and on our moral fiber as a nation.
We can expect to hear especially from Catholic leaders who are challenging Ryan's claim that his budget is based on Catholic social teachings. Listen for these voices in the days ahead.
1. Catholic nuns, priests and friars have called the Ryan budget "immoral," a "severe failure," the "height of hypocrisy" and "unpatriotic." Sister Simone Campbell led a 17-city "Nuns on the Bus" tour this summer to visit faith-based social service programs that would be hurt by cuts proposed in the Ryan budget. Last week her organization, NETWORK, and the Franciscan Action Network invited Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to spend a day with them visiting the poor in order to meet the people who'd be affected by their budget cuts.
NETWORK issued this statement after the Ryan-VP announcement on Saturday:
We agree with Catholic Bishops that Paul Ryan's budget fails the test of Catholic Social Teaching since it deliberately harms people at the economic margins. It is also unpatriotic because it says that we are an individualistic, selfish nation. This is emphatically not who we are. Both our Constitution and our faith teach us that "We the People" are called to care for one another, to have responsibility for each other. This year's election will present us with a critical choice. Do we want to favor the rich on the backs of people in need? Is that who we want to be?
2. Catholic bishops have called the Ryan budget "unjustified and wrong" and failing a moral test. In April the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a public letter to the House of Representatives saying that the federal budget must "protect poor, vulnerable people." In their letter the bishops set out three moral criteria to guide budget decisions. (The Ryan budget ignores all three.)
- Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
- A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects "the least of these" (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
- Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.
3. Diverse faith leaders have condemned the Ryan budget as "immoral" and "irresponsible" for cutting safety net programs while protecting the richest from shared sacrifice. A coalition of prominent faith leaders issued a public statement criticizing the budget before it was passed by the House. Here is what they said.
- Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners: "It is simply unconscionable to balance the budget on the backs of struggling Americans while protecting tax breaks for millionaires. Churches and faith-based nonprofits are already fighting an uphill battle to meet the needs of their communities. They don't need politicians making their work even harder because Congress is dead set on politicizing a simple duty of common sense governance."
- Rabbi Jack Moline of the Rabbinical Assembly: "The poor are not statistics ... it is unimaginable to look in the face of a child who would go hungry without government assistance and say, 'Sorry -- we need to reduce the deficit.'"
- Rev. Gabriele Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical coalition: "Budgets reflect our deepest moral commitments. Politicians ought to remember that protecting vulnerable families and children is at the center of the biblical command to care for the poor."
These faith leaders and others have gotten it right. The Ryan-Romney budget is a moral disaster because it penalizes struggling Americans while letting the rich off the hook. And it is an economic disaster because it slashes needed revenues through unfair tax breaks, thus worsening rather than helping to reduce the deficit.