By Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ
The drama of competing federal budgets and the ensuing game of “chicken” about who will shut down government is red meat for the pundits, the media, and ambitious politicians. But it ignores one basic truth: government budgets are not about economics; they are about fundamental morality. Over and over again Catholic teaching stresses the responsibility of government for the local, national, and global common good and the duty to protect and lift up the poor and vulnerable. Such moral duties and responsibilities are now on the line in Washington.
Many people may question how we can talk about morality when “we all know” that what is going on is just politics or doing what the voters want or what the lobbyists are well paid for?
Consider this not-imaginary scenario: a legislator helps to give a large tax refund or tax cut to the wealthiest of citizens. A few months later he or she has to pay for that tax break and does so by cutting food for the hungry or shelter for the homeless—any morality in that? Any sense that this is going on right now in Washington?
A budget is a moral document because it reflects our moral priorities. Repeatedly, our Catholic bishops have taken the position that one of the basic functions of government is to raise sufficient resources so that it can effectively work to “provide for the general welfare” and promote the common good, one of the most basic principles of Catholic social teaching. Government also must act to protect those who are poor and vulnerable, not to harm them. In an economic situation as fragile as the current one, this means in the concrete: a) insuring adequate revenues to meet overall needs; b) protecting the vulnerable; and c) in reducing deficits, taking a balanced approach that looks to all those programs and services of government that it provides to the public so that “we the people” share in reduced services or goods according to our means.
What is immoral in proposed budgets?
Yes, we have a national deficit problem which needs serious attention and widespread participation in its remedy. But, no thanks, not on the backs of those here or abroad who can least afford to pay the bill for the “goodies” of benefits and tax-cuts which we have all enjoyed. Finally, the deficit and debt is only one of our challenges as a nation, one which ranks behind the woes of millions of Americans without jobs and 43 million people living in poverty—the highest number in our fifty-one years of poverty estimates.
1. Bob McIntyre, United States Remains One of the Least Taxed Industrial Countries, Citizens for Tax Justice, November 11, 2010, p. 1.
2. Examples taken from February 14, 2011 letter to the members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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