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A Faith-Based Budget for the State?

As expected, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget resolution (H. CON. RES. 112), which he called “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal,” went down in defeat recently in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

After passing by a vote of 228-191 in the House (all Democrats and 10 Republicans voted against it), it failed in the Senate by a vote of 41-58 (all Democrats and 5 Republicans voted against it).

On the very same day, the Senate also rejected four other budget resolutions, including the president’s budget proposal, which was voted down unanimously by senators from both parties.

Although Ryan did not invoke religion when he first introduced his budget proposal on March 20, in an interview last month with David Brody of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, he described how his Catholic faith, particularly the principle of subsidiarity, guided his thought process and is consistent with Catholic social teaching:

David Brody: Tell me a little bit about the morality and the debt. Where does your Catholic faith play into the way this budget is crafted?

Paul Ryan: A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.

Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.

Liberal Catholics, of course, were outraged.

According to Daniel Maguire, professor of ethics at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, subsidiarity “means that nothing should be done by a higher authority that can be done by active participation at lower levels. Right-wingers like Paul Ryan grab that one word, ‘subsidiarity,’ and claim it supports their maniacal hatred of government. It doesn’t.” He faults Ryan’s budget for cutting “programs that help the 99 percent.” The Ryan budget “defends greed over need. Extend the tax breaks and further deregulate the dogs of greed.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reiterated their demand that the federal budget protect the poor, and said the GOP measure “fails to meet these moral criteria.”

Sixty Catholic social justice leaders, theologians, and clergy also released a statement saying that “this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.”

The Georgetown University faculty wrote in an open letter to Paul Ryan:

We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.

In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.

We also know how cuts in Pell Grants will make it difficult for low-income students to pursue their educations at colleges across the nation, including Georgetown.

Added Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit, and one of the organizers of the letter: “Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching. This is nonsense. As scholars, we want to join the Catholic bishops in pointing out that his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor.”

But Catholic critics of the Ryan budget plan have nothing to fear. Republicans are as firmly committed to funding the federal leviathan as the Democrats are.

Paul Ryan may be a devout Christian, but since he is the one who claims his faith guided his thought process when he prepared his budget, I have some questions about the extent of this guidance.

What kind of faith proposes an unbalanced budget with a deficit of $833 billion for fiscal year 2013?

What kind of faith proposes to take from Americans $517 billion and redistribute it to other Americans in the form of TANF, refundable EIC, SSI, unemployment, food stamps, housing and energy assistance, and school lunch subsidies?

What kind of faith proposes to take billions from taxpayers’ and give it to foreign governments in the name of foreign aid?

What kind of faith proposes to fund Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP when the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with health care?

What kind of faith proposes to fund the thieves and sexual predators in TSA uniforms?

What kind of faith proposes to fund the Department of Education, an unconstitutional, unnecessary, and harmful department that Republicans have talked for years about shutting down?

What kind of faith proposes to fund bloated military budgets and senseless foreign wars and occupations?

What kind of faith proposes spending $21.7 billion on agriculture in the form of direct assistance, export assistance, loans to food and fiber producers, agricultural research, commodity programs, crop insurance, and disaster assistance when no spending on agriculture is anywhere authorized by the Constitution?

What kind of faith proposes a “fiscally conservative” budget that is only within 5 percent of the almost $4 trillion that liberal Democrats want to spend?

Not the faith of anyone who is committed to the Constitution, less government, less spending, less regulation, deficit reduction, limited government, liberty, the free market, fiscal conservatism – and other things Republicans say they believe in.

It is not Ryan’s faith that I seriously question, but his Republican thought process.

For Catholics who are confused about the diverse voices in their church over the Republican budget plan, I can recommend two resources. The first is a new work by Randy England titled Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarian. The second is the definitive work by Thomas Woods titled The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy. This latter work ought to be on the shelf of every Catholic inclined in any way toward limited government and the free market. Read it; study it; digest it. It is an ideal antidote to the economic fallacies peddled by liberal and conservative Catholics.

Originally published on on May 30, 2012.