House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) last week attempted to use his Catholic faith to justify the House GOP’s budget cuts to programs that aide the poor, earning an admonishment from faith leaders across America. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops jumped in this week, criticizing the budget’s cuts to food stamps, tax credits for immigrant families, and other safety net programs as “unjustified and wrong.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who, like Ryan, is Catholic, brushed off the criticism yesterday. Ryan responded today, saying the GOP’s plan was to remove the poor’s dependency on the government to help take them “from welfare to work”:
MacCallum: The Catholic Bishops conference has also come out and said they don’t like what the plan entails for food stamps and also a child credit for illegal immigrants. What do you think about that?
RYAN: [...] These aren’t all the Catholic bishops, and we just respectfully disagree. We think quadrupling this area has not succeeded to get people out of poverty. One in six people, Martha, are in poverty today. Poverty is at the highest rate it’s been at in a generation under the president’s failed policies. What we’re trying to do here is take people from welfare to work, just like we succeeded in doing when we reformed cash welfare in 1996. We want to take those ideas and reform these other welfare programs so we don’t keep people on welfare but take people from welfare to work.
Ryan painted the dispute with the Bishops as a respectful disagreement, but as ThinkProgress noted last week, his budget ignores the Church’s social teaching when it comes to helping the poor.
He also ignored the facts regarding the nation’s social safety net. Rather than reinforcing poverty, social safety net programs have helped keep millions of Americans out of poverty. And while Ryan touts the GOP-led 1996 welfare reform effort as a success, it created a program that has failed to help the neediest Americans. “[M]uch as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared,” the New York Times wrote of the reformed welfare program earlier this month.
His argument that the safety net is on an unsustainable path of growth is also wrong. Many of the programs were expanded after the Great Recession as the unemployment rate rose and more Americans were in need; as the economy has recovered, those programs are now shrinking.