Magazine article The Christian Century

Bishops Blast GOP Budget

Magazine article The Christian Century

Bishops Blast GOP Budget

Article excerpt

USING UNUSUALLY blunt language, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops declared November 14 that they would support a veto by President Clinton of a key Republican plan to balance the budget in seven years if the Republicans don't drop sections of the bill that the bishops say would harm the poor. In a letter to each member of Congress, the bishops called on the lawmakers to drop some provisions of the welfare reform proposal and reject reductions in a tax program aimed at aiding the working poor.

"If the Congress does not reject this fatally flawed legislation, we urge the president to veto it," the bishops said. "While the label is reform, the reality is cutting resources and shifting responsibilities." The legislation has passed the House and Senate, and negotiators from each side are working out differences. The letter was signed by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, head of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop John Ricard, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman of the bishops' Domestic Policy Committee.

In calling on House and Senate negotiators to reject central parts of the Republicans' budget-balancing bill, the bishops said the proposed legislation "appears to represent a massive disinvestment in poor children and working families." Republicans argue, however, that such measures are necessary to get federal budget deficits under control and to aid the middle class with tax relief. "Fiscal restraint and decreasing the budget deficit are necessary," the bishops acknowledged, "but the weakest members of our society should not be made to bear the greatest burden."

The bishops maintained that the GOP welfare reform proposals will bring about an increase in abortions without addressing the fundamental causes of out-of-wedlock births. They also said the bill's projected reduction of $32 billion in a tax-relief program for the working poor "will leave many hard-working families with fewer resources and more poverty than they would have under current law." And: "We are not supporters of the status quo, which too often undermines families and hurts children, but this legislation in many respects represents a huge step backward."

The letter was released on the second day of the four-day general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national organization of the church's hierarchy, and its social-policy arm, the U.S. Catholic Conference. From the meeting's opening the bishops let loose a steady stream of criticism, aimed especially but not exclusively at Congress, for what they believe is an abandonment of the poor and needy in the GOP effort to reform government programs.

At the meeting's opening Mahony told the bishops, "We are witnessing an extraordinary assault upon the poorest members of our society, blaming them not only for their personal plight and poverty, but also for many of the other economic and social ills affecting our country. Our immigrant brothers and sisters, and various minority groups, are being singled out for hostile blame."

Mahony's remarks came as Congress and the White House reached a bitter stalemate over budget and policy priorities that led to the shutdown of many agencies of the federal government on November 14. Part of the dispute involved President Clinton's opposition to deep cuts proposed by the GOP in Medicare and Medicaid spending, education, environmental initiatives, the earned-income tax credit for the working poor, and college loans, as well as denial of social-service benefits to legal immigrants. …

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