House Speaker John Boehner responded Thursday to the criticisms of a group of Roman Catholic academics, rejecting their claim that his budget cut decisions are hurting the poor.
Boehner, during his weekly news conference, responded to a question about the Catholic leaders who accuse him of proposing cuts to programs for the poor that goes against Catholic teachings to help those in need.
“I’m a big believer that in a country like ours those who have the opportunity to succeed and do succeed have a responsibility to help those who can’t compete. I’ve always believed this,” Boehner, a Catholic, responded, according to The Los Angeles Times. “I believe the actions that I’ve taken in my years in Congress uphold the values of my faith.”
Although Boehner did not elaborate on how it reflects his values, he told those at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention this February that the nation’s $14.1 trillion debt is “a mortal threat to our country. It is also a moral threat.”
“It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children’s future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily,” said the 10-term congressmen from Ohio.
Over 70 Catholic theologians, scholars, priests, sisters and social justice leaders issued an open letter Wednesday reminding Boehner of Catholic teachings on economic justice and lambasting his record on helping the poor.
“From the Apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress,” stated the signers of the letter.
“The fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”
Signers listed proposed cuts to the 2012 budget that they are unhappy with, including to Maternal and Child Health grants, the Women and Infants and Children Nutrition program, food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare. The Catholic academics took issue that while cuts were being made to help the poor, the House was proposing to cut taxes for corporations and the rich.
“The budget he worked to pass in the House literally takes food from hungry children while enacting massive tax cuts for the wealthy,” said Vincent J. Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton. “These actions are antithetical to Catholic Doctrines.”
The critical open letter came just a week after a coalition of Christian groups, including the World Evangelical Alliance and National Association of Evangelicals, announced a billboard, radio, and online advertising campaign in South Carolina to urge Congress to not cut funding for global development and aid to the world’s poor.
“Jesus taught that whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto him. Cuts to funding for U.S. international development and aid would have virtually no impact on the U.S. deficit, but they would have a devastating impact on the world’s poor,” said Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance.
The still running South Carolina ads are aimed at supporting the state’s senators and congressmen who are working to maintain current levels of foreign aid, which only make up 0.6 percent of the U.S. budget.
“We don’t have a spending crisis in this country. We have a crisis of values and priorities,” said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, which is sponsoring the ad campaign. “Something is out of balance when some in Congress propose cuts to the already-limited funding for global poverty and hunger that help the least of these among us while spending billions on tax giveaways to oil companies and trillions in new tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.”
Some Catholic leaders agree with that assessment and are calling on Boehner to speak about Catholic teachings on responsibility to the poor in his speech at The Catholic University of America.
But Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, said the Speaker of the House will be “delivering a personal, non-political message” this Saturday at the university, according to The New York Times.