Magazine article The Christian Century

Two Catholics Featured at Hearing on Poverty

Magazine article The Christian Century

Two Catholics Featured at Hearing on Poverty

Article excerpt

Sister Simone Campbell, the face of the Nuns on the Bus tours, and Rep. Paul Ryan, the brains behind the House Republicans' budget-cutting plans, have for more than a year represented diametrically opposed camps on how to apply Catholic social teaching to American fiscal policy.

At a House Budget Committee hearing on July 31, the two Catholics had a chance to square off. Sister Campbell testified before Ryan's committee about hardship in America as the nation nears the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's 1964 declaration of the War on Poverty.

Yet there were few fireworks and not much in the way of theological debate, as Ryan (R., Wis.) did not go out of his way to champion the GOP budget plan that bears his name. That plan focuses on cutting social programs that Campbell says are key to supporting struggling Americans and also boosting the economy.

Instead, Ryan, the committee chair, stressed that the hearing was about improving people's lives more than it was a debate on cutting spending. "We are losing this war on poverty and we need to know why," Ryan said.

Not that Ryan was endorsing government programs, which he compared to a "giant sedimentary rock" with layers of programs built on each other. With little coordination between the various programs, Ryan said, in many cases they work against each other.

But Campbell, who was invited to testify by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), noted that the 2014 budget resolution plan proposed by Ryan and passed by the House in March would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Experts estimate that the cuts could total $135 billion, almost 18 percent, over the next ten years.

Ryan's previous two budget proposals suggested similar cuts to SNAP, which is often referred to as the food stamp program. The U.S. Catholic Bishops have decried those cuts as immoral, and on July 31 Campbell echoed those statements.

"SNAP is the most effective program we have with the least amount of waste, fraud and abuse," Campbell said, adding that cutting it would be morally wrong.

Campbell is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, and in June 2012 she and Network launched the first Nuns on the Bus campaign specifically to oppose the Republican budget plans set forth last year by Ryan. …

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