Bishops tell lawmakers to focus on poor in upcoming budget

By Rhina Guidos

(CNS) — Decrease military spending and help the poor, said the U.S. bishops in
a May 19 letter addressed to Congress, before lawmakers prepare to work on the
federal budget for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.

budget requires difficult decisions, but lawmakers must “give central
importance to ‘the least of these,'” said the letter sent to all members
of the Senate and the House of Representatives on behalf of the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops and signed by the chairmen of six USCCB committees.

letter urged lawmakers to “promote the welfare of workers and families who
struggle to live in dignity.”

funding for defense and immigration enforcement while cutting “many domestic
and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly
troubling,” said the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
of New York and Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Christopher J.
Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, George V. Murry of
Youngstown, Ohio, and Joe S. Vasquez of Austin,

Respectively, they chair the bishops’ committees on pro-life activities, international policy, communications, domestic policy, Catholic education and migration.

should be “guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity,” said
the bishops in the letter, and making deep cuts to programs that help the poor “would
harm people facing dire circumstances.”

the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and
tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people
become even bleaker,” the bishops said in the letter.

early budget proposal unveiled in March by President Donald Trump’s administration
called for a $54 billion increase in military spending and cutting nonmilitary
programs by an equal amount. The proposal also asked for more money for
immigration enforcement, while seeking deep cuts in social safety-net programs as
well as environmental programs and dramatically reducing funding for the State Department
and its foreign aid programs.

The early draft of Trump’s proposed budget,
called the “skinny budget” because of its drastic proposed cuts to certain
departments, included slashing by 37 percent the $50 billion budget for the State Department and
U.S. Agency for International Development. Both departments have
anti-poverty programs to help foster democratic societies abroad.

is hard to reconcile the need for diplomacy and political solutions with
significant cuts to the State Department budget,” they said.

bishops said in the letter that diplomacy and international development are “primary
tools” for peace, regional stability and human rights and lawmakers should “not
adopt deep cuts to these budgets.” As it is, the U.S. spends more than any
other country on military and its spending is about a third of worldwide
military spending, the bishops said.

nation continues to increase spending on nuclear weapons, despite the moral
imperative to verifiably disarm from this class of indiscriminate weapons,”
they said. “Military force should only be employed in a just cause as a last
resort within strict moral limits of proportionality, discrimination and
probability of success.”

there isn’t enough money to fund everything, spending money elsewhere, or
saving money in the budget shouldn’t be done by cutting health care, nutrition
or other anti-poverty programs, the bishops said.

human consequences of budget choices are clear to us as pastors,” they said, calling the federal budget “a moral document with profound implications for the common good of our nation and world.”

“Our Catholic community defends the unborn and the undocumented, feeds
the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick,
both at home and abroad,” their letter said. “We help mothers facing challenging situations of
pregnancy, poor families rising above crushing poverty, refugees fleeing
conflict and persecution, and communities devastated by wars, natural disasters
and famines.”

in that fight, “we are partners with government,” they said, adding that church
institutions around the world help the most marginalized of communities.

moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of
all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these
debates,” the bishops said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States stand
ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces
future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and
the common good.”

It’s unclear when Congress will take up talks on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Both parties expressed criticism of the president’s initial proposal. The White House said it would release a full budget for the 2018 fiscal year May 23, while Trump is away on his first foreign trip as president and a day before he meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.


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