When House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his latest “Path to Prosperity” budget last month, it was immediately admonished as an “immoral disaster” that “robs the poor” by Catholic religious leaders.
That echoed the backlash Ryan received last year, but it hasn’t stopped him from attempting to use Catholic social teaching to support his budget. “A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private,” Ryan told the Christian Broadcast Network, before saying the Catholic principles of subsidiarity and the preferential option for the poor guided his plan:
Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.
Watch it, courtesy of the Christian Broadcast Network:
Though Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave some mild praise to Ryan’s “attention to the poor” in 2011, the budget seems to contradict the Catholic Church’s voting guide and standards on how to address domestic poverty. In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guide produced by the USCCB, the Church outlines a specific message on welfare policy, saying it “should reduce poverty and dependency, strengthen family life, and help families leave poverty through work, training, and assistance with child care, health care, housing, and transportation. It should also provide a safety net for those who cannot work.” Later, it defines an even more specific approach to food assistance and nutrition policy:
A first priority for agriculture policy should be food security for all. Because no one should face hunger in a land of plenty, Food Stamps, the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and other nutrition programs need to be strong and effective.
Ryan’s budget, however, does just the opposite. More than 60 percent of its cuts come from programs that help the poor. It would kick millions out of SNAP, (the federal food stamp program) and would gut the Women, Infant, and Children nutrition program. Food stamps lifted millions of women and children out of poverty in 2009, while tax credits and other programs benefiting low-income families (which could be cut by Ryan’s plan to end such credits) kept millions of women and children out of poverty. And it guts Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, ignoring the Church’s teachings on health care.
Ryan’s belief that those programs create dependency on the government have also been proven false. Far from creating dependency, social welfare programs are shrinking as the economy continues its recovery.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s belief in subsidiarity — the idea that programs for the poor should be handled by local actors — denies reality when it comes to social welfare programs. State and local governments don’t have the capacity to manage welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC, all of which address areas the Church says should be protected. Neither do local charities or churches. During the Great Recession, as the number of impoverished Americans ballooned, donations fell and churches and local charities were often stretched beyond their means, left unable to help many of the most vulnerable members of their communities.
Ryan’s budget ignores that the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding the poor often align closely with those of progressives. Pope Benedict XVI, in fact, has called for greater governmental attention to the poor and redistribution of wealth to address rising income inequality. Ryan’s views, however, adhere more closely to author Ayn Rand, who denounced religion, opposed governmental aid to the poor and middle class, and, despite his supposed adherence to Catholic social teaching, was Ryan’s inspiration to enter politics.