Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

After Debt Ceiling Crisis, Real Work on US Social Policy Lies Ahead

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

After Debt Ceiling Crisis, Real Work on US Social Policy Lies Ahead

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Now that the so-called debt ceiling crisis is over for the time being (no one except a few tea party Republicans were actually willing to cast the United States into a political and economic quagmire that could have thrown this country and the entire world into a new Great Depression), the real work on future U.S. social/tax policies begins.

Almost no U.S. Catholic leaders have aligned themselves with the adamant Republican insistence on no tax increases for the very wealthy.

If lay Catholic allegiance to the church's social teaching on economic issues comes to play a major role in the next election cycle, it could spell the death of the tea party movement and a resurgence of the Democratic Party unseen since FDR's New Deal era, when Roosevelt oversaw policies of a minimum wage, a Social Security system for the elderly, and an end to child labor--all elements of Catholic social teaching that became an integral part of the U.S. social and political culture.

In the current economic/social/political upheaval, Catholic leaders have insisted that, if anything, the shared sacrifice demanded in recent months in the name of fiscal responsibility by both parties must include a substantive, equitable sharing of sacrifice by the well-to-do in coming years.

They also insist that upcoming federal policies must alleviate the burden of the nation's middle class and poor--the 80 to 90 percent of Americans who continue to be hit much harder by current and projected economic sacrifices than the economically elite who are sheltered from such vicissitudes by their wealth and their extraordinary tax breaks.

In particular, a number of Catholic and other Christian leaders have called for action to reverse the dramatically expanding wealth of a very few at the expense of the classes of upper-middle, middle, lower-middle or poor Americans.

Perhaps a key argument--not yet effectively utilized by church leaders, despite its potential populist and political appeal--is that Republican insistence on continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for the very rich undermines not only the nation's economic recovery but the very democracy on which the United States has been built for more than 200 years.

In both short-and long-term analysis, the U.S. bishops and other Catholic and Christian leaders have been saying that the nation's budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the poor and middle class and requires shared sacrifice by all--including the nation's richest people.

From Catholic leaders have come the following in recent days:

* "Our nation must be fiscally responsible in morally responsible ways," said the heads of Catholic Relief Services (Kenneth Hackett) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace (Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y.) in a July 29 letter to Congress protesting dramatic budget cuts in foreign aid for humanitarian projects assisting the poor in some of the world's neediest nations.

* "A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons," two bishops' conference committee chairs, Hubbard and Stockton, Calif., Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of the bishops' domestic policy committee, said July 29. "It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly. …

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