The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said Tuesday that the budget cuts on entitlements, supported by Republican politicians ahead of the vote on a reconciliation package for the 2013 budget, are immoral because they would hurt the poor.
The bishops reminded the House of Representatives in a letter to be mindful of their moral responsibility as lawmakers tasked with protecting the most vulnerable citizens, especially the poor. Congress is currently struggling to come up with a way to alleviate the drastic automatic cuts that are bound to kick in at the end of the year.
The automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, called the "sequester," are impending after Congress failed to reach an agreement on budget cuts in November of last year. Defense and social benefits are the two sectors bound to suffer the most from the drastic funding chop -- the law requires $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to be equally divided between defense and domestic programs over the next decade, with the first $109 billion in savings due to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013.
Republicans have been supporting bigger cuts to entitlements in their 2013 budget proposal, while Democratic lawmakers have lobbied for bigger cuts in the defense budget, which is nearly the size of the defense budgets of all remaining world countries put together.
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., who chairs the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and was the main signatory of the letter, reminded Congress that "budget starts with the proposition that first, Congress must do no harm."
As Blaire pointed out, the Republican proposal aims to change the Child Tax Credit to exclude children of immigrant families, "the large majority of whom are American citizens;" impose cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), which would affect all poor families and be "a direct threat to their human dignity," according to the bishop; and cut the Social Services Block Grant, "an important source of funding for programs throughout the country" that serve "the homeless, the elderly, people with disabilities, children living in poverty, and abuse victims."
"The Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits our country faces, and we acknowledge that Congress must make difficult decisions about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs," Blaire wrote. "However, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test."
The bishop, speaking for the entire conference, the official body representing Vatican in the United States, urged politicians to "ensure all policies meet the moral criteria established by the Catholic bishops of the United States to create a circle of protection around programs that serve poor and vulnerable people and communities:"
"Congress should assess every budget decision by how it reflects the shared responsibility of the government and other institutions to protect human life and dignity, especially of the poor and vulnerable," the USCCB said in a related statement on the organization's website.
The House Budget committee began marking up a bill Monday that would replace the sequestration cuts with alternative spending reductions. The House is expected to vote on the Republican proposal later this week.
Republicans seem to fear that cuts on defense would place an unfair burden on troops and military families.
"In our view, we shouldn't be taking more from hardworking Americans to fix Washington's mistakes," Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget committee, said on Capitol Hill Monday. "Instead, we should be solving the problem with structural reforms to our entitlement programs to make them strong and sustainable."
The committee's reaction to the moral reproach by the USCCB was not immediately clear.
An estimated 23.9 percent of the U.S. majority Christian population is Catholic, although Catholics have seen the highest number of adherents leave in recent years, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Catholic voters are split quite evenly down the middle when it comes to partisan affiliation, although it depends on their ethnicity. According to Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 49 percent of white, non-Hispanic Catholics identified themselves as Republican and 42 percent as Democratic in 2011; that ratio is opposite for non-white Catholics. Among white, non-Hispanic Catholics under the age of 30, support for the GOP has increased from 41 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2011.