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U.S. lawmakers urged to draft budget that protects human life, dignity
Catholic News Service photo
The statue of Grief and History stands near the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington. The difficult process of lawmakers trying to agree on budget and debt-ceiling measures resumed Oct. 16, as the government entered day 16 of the partial shutdown.
Catholic News Service photo
The statue of Grief and History stands near the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington. The difficult process of lawmakers trying to agree on budget and debt-ceiling measures resumed Oct. 16, as the government entered day 16 of the partial shutdown.
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Every decision Congress makes about the federal budget "should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity" at home and abroad, the chairmen of two bishops' committees told U.S. Senate and House leaders working on a budget package.

"A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects 'the  least of these' (Mt.25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first," said Bishops Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton Calif., and Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa.

The third "moral criteria" they outlined was: "Government and other  institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

The bishops are, respectively, chairmen of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Their Nov. 12 letter, which was released Nov. 15 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was addressed to the leadership of the Budget Conference Committee: Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairs of the Senate and House budget committees, respectively, and those committees' ranking members, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

The U.S. bishops "stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future unsustainable deficits, protects poor and  vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity," they wrote.

Bishops Blaire and Pates on behalf of the USCCB thanked the lawmakers for reaching an agreement to end the recent partial government shutdown and to "restart suspended programs and services."

"As you work on a larger budget package that sets the country on a sustainable fiscal path, we continue to urge wise bipartisan leadership  and moral clarity in crafting a plan that responsibly replaces sequestration and protects programs serving poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad," the prelates said.

"A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in these essential programs," they added.

The bishops noted a separate conference committee is working to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the 2013 farm bill, especially the disparity in the cuts each includes with regard to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Senate version cuts $4 billion from the program over the next 10 years, and the House version cuts nearly $40 billion over the same period.

Bishops Blaire and Pates urged members of the Budget Conference Committee to reject proposals to cut assistance for poor and hungry people "to find savings in the budget" and "relieve a percentage of sequestration cuts."

"A balanced, bipartisan and just agreement will require 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," they said.

"The Budget Control Act (BCA) exempted many important anti-poverty programs from sequestration, and we supported and commended Congress for that decision," the bishops wrote. "However, many discretionary programs that provide vital services to people and families living in poverty, both her and throughout the world, have been cut deeply in recent years. Continuing sequestration threatens even deeper cuts."

They called attention to the need for affordable housing for families, the elderly, the disabled, and homeless people and warned against any more cuts to Head Start programs. Calling it "the just and decent thing to do, they also urged an extension of unemployment benefits for those still looking for jobs.

They added, "Last year the Office of Management and Budget estimated that fiscal year 2013 sequestration cuts alone could deprive 3.33 million people of life-saving food assistance and 276,500 of HIV/AIDS treatment, leading to about 63,000 more deaths and 124,000 more orphans."

The bishops told the lawmakers the nation also "can do better" with regard to providing more funds for international assistance for countries in times of disaster and helping people overseas to work their way out of poverty.

Bishops Blaire and Pates quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church,  which they said "unambiguously states it is the proper role of government to 'make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.'"

"In many instances, the government is a partner with the church and its ministries in accomplishing this work," they said. "Relieving sequestration in a balanced manner will allow the church to continue its important work and reach more people in need."

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