Dewane: Budget ‘moral document’; House bill puts poor in ‘real jeopardy’

| Julie Asher | July 25, 2017 | 1 Comment

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., announces the 2018 House budget blueprint during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington July 18. CNS photoAaron P. Bernstein, Reuters

The U.S. House budget resolution “will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy” because it reduces deficits “through cuts for human needs” and by trying to slash taxes at the same time, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

“A nation’s budget is a moral document,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country.”

Bishop Dewane’s July 20 statement was issued in response to the budget resolution that was voted out of the House Budget Committee along party lines July 19.

The nonbinding Republican measure is a 10-year budget blueprint that calls for $621.5 billion in national defense spending, provides for $511 billion in nondefense spending and ties cuts to a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

It makes at least $203 billion in cuts over a decade in Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits for the working poor and other programs that help low-income Americans. The bill also would change Medicare into a type of voucher program for future retirees.

“The USCCB is monitoring the budget and appropriations process in Congress very carefully, and is analyzing the proposed House budget resolution in more detail,” Bishop Dewane said. “We note at the outset that the proposal assumes the harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid from the American Health Care Act.”

The House May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. The Senate effort to repeal and replace the health care law collapsed late July 17.

In the House budget resolution, “steady increases to military spending … are made possible by cutting critical resources for those in need over time, including potentially from important programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that provide essential nutrition to millions of people,” Bishop Dewane said.

“This would undo a bipartisan approach on discretionary spending from recent years, that, while imperfect, was a more balanced compromise given competing priorities,” he added.

Catholic Charities USA also rejected the measure’s “dramatic cuts in key social safety net programs.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the national Catholic Charities network, urged House members “to prioritize and protect programs that support and uplift the poor and vulnerable in our country.”

“While CCUSA supports the responsible use of our nation’s fiscal resources and has worked consistently to improve effectiveness in anti-poverty programs, reforms that seek only to cut our nation’s social safety net will further strain efforts to meet individual needs and risk pushing more Americans into poverty,” Sister Markham said July 20.

She made the comments in a letter to Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, who is chair of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, ranking member.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, also wrote to Black and Yarmuth expressing her opposition to the budget resolution.

“As an organization guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church, we firmly believe that the federal budget should be informed by moral principles and offer special protections for the poor and vulnerable,” she wrote July 18, the day the measure was unveiled.

“A budget must be fair and just and cannot be balanced on the backs of those among us who least can afford it,” Sister Keehan said. “We recognize that the proper role of federal spending programs should be to lift up the neediest among us enabling them to active participants in society.

“Unfortunately, the deep cuts in programs and services assumed by this budget proposal will severely reduce or eliminate access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, health care, education and other social supports that help lift families and individuals out of poverty and improve their health outcomes,” she said.

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  • Charles C.

    Wouldn’t a budget described as a “Moral document” spend no more than it takes in? I would think it would also would make some progress in paying off our debts.

    Further, doesn’t the principle of subsidiarity speak against federal programs when state programs are available? Why is it the federal government’s responsibility to provide welfare for the citizens of the various states?

    And, finally, there seems to be a note of overblown hysteria in some of the comments made in the article. Once again we hear about “harmful and unacceptable” Medicaid cuts. They know, because they have claimed to carefully analyzed the proposals, that there is no change to Medicaid for three years and spending for the program will continue to grow for seven years after that.

    Thirty to forty per cent of doctors do not accept new Medicaid patients. Other problems with the system as it exists result in less care and poorer quality care for patients. The idea of making changes to Medicaid is appropriate and necessary. In any event, how to deliver health care is clearly a prudential decision and one which Bishop Dewane or Sister Markham have no special competency to address.

    The idea of transferring ever more money, power, and control to the federal government seems to be of more urgent necessity to them than the saving of souls. I hope I am wrong, but it does appear that way to this simple layman.