U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Spending Cuts

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House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are pushing back against criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the GOP’s proposed cuts to domestic spending programs. They should.

The USCCB’s criticism comes at a time when it’s appropriately fighting the Obama administration’s mandate that Church-affiliated employers must provide health insurance that covers birth control. As a Catholic, it pains me that the bishops apparently do not recognize that a central government that is big and powerful enough to spend billions of other people’s dollars on housing, food, and health care programs, which the bishops support, is inevitably going to shove its tentacles into areas where they’re not wanted. In other words, if you play with fire, there’s a good chance you’re going to get burnt.

The bishops have now sent four letters to Congress that call on policymakers to “create a ‘circle of protection’ around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity.” Oh please. Even if it were the proper role of the federal government to fund such programs, the government’s efforts have been inefficient and often counterproductive. If anything, the massive federal welfare state that has sprung up over the past five decades has stripped countless Americans of their dignity by making them reliant on the cold hand of the bureaucrat.

Note this paragraph from a USCCB letter that argues against cuts to housing programs:

As bishops, we see firsthand the pain and suffering in our communities and in our parishes caused by homelessness and lack of affordable housing. The Catholic community is one of the largest private providers of housing services for the poor and vulnerable in the country. We shelter the homeless, develop affordable housing for families and people with disabilities, counsel families at risk of foreclosure, and provide housing and care for those at the end of life. At a time when the need for assistance from HUD programs is growing, cutting funds for them could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.

The responsibility for addressing such concerns properly belongs to the Church and other organizations that possess that “firsthand” view of the struggles many people face. I won’t get into a discussion on Catholic social teaching, but it’s impossible for me to imagine that the perpetual mess that is the Department of Housing & Urban Development comports with the principles of subsidiarity.

The Catholic Church could do a lot more for the poor if its parishioners were able to put more into the collection plate instead of rendering it unto Caesar. Thus, it’s pretty sad that the bishops see this as a “time when the need for assistance from HUD programs is growing” rather than a time for the Church to reassert its traditional role in taking care of those in need—a role that is hindered by the welfare state that the bishops embrace.

[Update: For more on this topic, see my colleague Roger Pilon’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on morality and the federal budget.]