House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will give the commencement address at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Ahead of the visit, dozens of faculty members from the school and other other Catholic universities are writing to Boehner — who is himself an observant Catholic — challenging his willingness to “gut” social programs while protecting “new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.” “Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings” of caring for the poor, they write:
Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.
The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
The letter goes on to cite a separate letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, written last month, which also raised moral issues with the GOP budget. “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” the bishops wrote, adding:
Converting Medicare into a voucher program could shift rising health care costs to vulnerable seniors and those who are poor without controlling these costs. We also fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing.
Indeed, according to official Vatican doctrine, “The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State.” “Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance,” the Vatican guidance continues, because “[j]ust, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects.”
“Speaker Boehner’s budget eviscerates vital programs that protect the poor, the elderly, the homeless and at-risk pregnant women and children. This is not pro-life,” Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic and a signatory of the letter, said in press release. The Church has also voiced support for labor unions.
As Faith in Public Life notes, “in contrast to the Catholic right’s effort to intimidate Notre Dame into withdrawing its commencement invitation to President Obama, this letter does NOT call on the university to disinvite Boehner or ask Boehner to cancel.”
In response, Boehner’s spokesperson told the New York Times that Boehner’s speech is “personal” and “non-political.” He did not address the scholars’ argument.