The Bishops Were Wrong on the Ryan Budget

In the wake of the selection of Paul Ryan as the VP nominee, you will be hearing a lot about how Ryan is a bad Catholic because the Bishops criticized the Ryan budget plan.

Let me cut to the chase: the USCCB was wrong (at least part of it).

The text of the letter issued by the Bishops gets the basics wrong and completely ignores the immorality of continued debt. They say:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs. The committee has been instructed to reduce agricultural programs by an additional $33.2 billion. In allocating these reductions, the committee should protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises. Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong. If cuts are necessary, the committee should first look towards reducing and targeting commodity and subsidy programs that disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness

Except those draconian cuts they fear are not cuts at all, but reductions in growth from the projected baseline budgeting planned growth. To suggest that these are real cuts is disingenuous political speak beneath the dignity of the conference.

Further, this letter does not address the real problems facing America, rather the Bishops sit on their high horses while simultaneously sticking their heads in the sand.

This massive accumulating debt has real consequences, and those consequences will be disastrous for the very poor the USCCB is concerned about.

If we continue to spend the way we are, we will have a Greek-style economy sooner rather than later, and with massive unemployment and massive shrinkage of the economy, where will the poor be then?

Ryan’s budget is just a modest (too modest maybe) step in the right direction to try and prevent America (and America’s poor) from going over the fiscal cliff. He should be applauded by the Bishops instead of scolded.

This letter was beneath the dignity of the USCCB and was widely considered merely a product of that body’s reflexive leftist tilt.

The bottom line, Ryan is right and the Bishops are wrong to frame the discussion the way they did. And I am not the only one who thinks so, so do a lot of the Bishops. At their June meeting, we had these remarks.

“There have been some concerns raised by lay Catholics, especially some Catholic economists, about what was perceived as a partisan action against Congressman Ryan and the budget he had proposed,” Bishop Boyea said in reference to the USCCB committee’s opposition to the House budget plan. “We need to be articulate only in principles, and let the laity make these applications … It was perceived as partisan, and thus didn’t really further dialogue in our deeply divided country.”

“I’m not sure that we have the humility yet not to stray into areas where we lack competence, and where we need to let the laity take the lead,” he added. “We need to learn far more than we need to teach in this area. We need to listen more than we need to speak. We already have an excellent, fine Compendium [on the Social Doctrine of the Church].”

Echoing Bishop Boyea’s comments, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City said that the committee is “at times perceived as partisan” and needs to consider the principle of subsidiarity, which has been “neglected in past documents.” Archbishop Naumann added that solutions that place emphasis in enrolling people in government programs have been “tried for decades” and failed.

“We need to talk about the debt and the real seriousness of that debt,” he continued. “Sometimes we’re perceived as just encouraging the government to spend more money with no realistic way of how we’re going to afford to do this.”

Amen and amen.

This article first appeared in the National Catholic Register on Saturday, August 11, 2012 and is reprinted with permission.

Patrick Archbold


Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company. Patrick, his wife Terri, and their five children reside in Long Island, N.Y.

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  • MarkRutledge

    While perhaps not qualifying for “scandal,” proclamations such as these cause difficulties for the Catholic faithful in the public square.  The average non-Catholic Joe (and the average Catholic Joe, truth be told) do not understand who and what the USCCB is, or, more importantly, is not.   They do not understand the USCCB is merely a collegial body with no ecclesial authority, so it appears to them a Catholic publicly at odds with a USCCB position is violating Church teaching. 

    Like the UN, sometimes I wish they’d simply go away.

  • PJA

    Thank you for writing this.  Too many Catholics – including apparently many bishops – don’t have a good grasp of economics and how serious the debt and entitlement situation is in this country.  Please continue to write and get the word out.

  • mg

    The bishops were obviously working to reduce the deficit, what part of the statements addressing the cuts to subsidies to big agriculture are not clear.  It doesn’t take an economics degree to see that large subsidies to corporations already making a comfortable profit are no longer needed.  Especially to the corn and corn by products growers (corn syrup) whose product contributes to obesity and high health care costs.
    I don’t think we need to criticize the bishops, we need to work together with men of faith. 
    How can you possibly construe balancing the budget a leftist action?

  • John

    Thanks for setting the Bishops straight.

    • John

       They are such ignorant louts.  How could they know anything?

  • mg

    Paul Ryan’s republican cronies are some of the main beneficiaries of the farm subsidies.  Preserving corporate welfare does not balance the budget.  The bishops can understand this as well as you or I can.  We don’t need to restrict or reduce their contribution to society to theology.  Some bishops and priests actually have advanced degrees in subjects other than theology.

  • Resprep

    Patrick, I think you missed the point of the Bishop’s letter (at least the part you quoted).  I understand them as saying if you need to cut expenses to trim the budget, cut the subsidies to big corporations and agriculture conglomerates over sacrificing food stamps for poor families.  How many corporations and private citizens buy large tracts of land and have the cost offset by the federal goverment by applying for subsidies?   Is that where our precious resources should be going at the expense of feeding our children?  I don’t think so and I hope you don’t either, but the tone of your blog sounds like you do.

    • PJA

       Resprep, I think you are missing the larger point made three paragraphs below the quote of the Bishop’s letter you reference.  That point is “this massive accumulating debt has real consequences, and those
      consequences will be disastrous for the very poor the USCCB is concerned

      When rates on US debt rise due to our profligacy the interest payments will not only crowd out any budgetary room for SNAP, WIC, etc. but the private sector will have even less access to the credit required to grow and expand their businesses.  If you don’t think out of control entitlements and soaring interest rates can cripple an economy take a look at at what’s happening in Spain.

  • Resprep

    Pja instead of calling people ignorant maybe you should get a better grasp of politics and economics yourself.  While you are correct amassing a huge defecit is irresponsible and selfish, blaming the small fish for what the sharks are doing is either uninitiated or dishonest.  Only you know who you are, but to me you are just supporting the talk show rhetoric that offers no real solutions, except for protecting “my piece of the pie” while smoke screening what is really going on.  The amount of money spent to feed the poor is minescule compared to the waste and patronage that is happening.  Interest rates are being held artificially low and the economy is still faltering.  Our trillion dollar stimulus plan has failed, and if you researched where that money went you know why it failed.  The Fed gives overstreched banks 600 billion USD, and then proceed to tell us the savings rate went up!  Please, I am all for a balanced budget at every level of government and in each household, but not on the backs of those who can least afford it or need emergency help for the first time in their life.  Food stamps and welfare are definitely entitlement programs and the agencies responsible for administering those resources must minimize abuse and waste, by utilizing old and new technologies.  Like fingerprinting the recipients (if every soldier is fingerprinted, why aren’t welfare recipients) and I am sure every honest citizen utilizing those services won’t mind in the least.  Social Security and pensions are not entitlement programs and the goverments are not permitted to reduce the debt it owes just because they already spent the money  or no longer want to contribute to them, because they have better ideas for the money.  The best way to insure that everyone can support themselves is to teach them to read, write, and capable of arithmatics, not social engineer them in an unneccessary curriculum. 

    • PJA

       Resprep – I didn’t call you ignorant, I merely pointed out (charitably, I hope) that there are real consequences to the fiscal and monetary path we are on, and that they will have a Very negative impact on the poor. 

  • Pecuniary Matters

    Although I appreciate Bishop Naumann and Bishop Boyea’s voices in the wilderness, the reality is that Bishop Blaire’s wasn’t “perceived” as partisan, it was was partisan, and ill-advised, especially considering the USCCB’s history. Nonetheless, I wish them well in their efforts to lead their brother Bishop’s along a path of restraint and reflection that hopefully results in a firm purpose of amendment.

    Had I spoken, I would have been one of those lay Catholics raising objections-and being a financial professional with advanced education (CPA, BS Economics, MBA Finance) and experience auditing Medicaid/Medicare, I know how government and welfare programs operate. These programs not only breed dependency but encourage immorality, and rob recipients of the dignity of independence and responsibility and degrade their citizenship to addicts who trade their vote for promises of material support. In short, they are feudal serfs to a federal government that we now know sees itself as a sovereign bound only to the whims of its current officeholders. 

    Bishop Blaire’s comments are deeply disturbing. First, I cannot find any information that would suggest his opinions are guided by any, let alone adequate technical competence or experience in government finance. Second, while few people defend agricultural (or other forms of) corporate welfare, fiscal matters are not the simple dichotomy he asserts  it to be, unless one has simply doesn’t understand why the legislative process has been likened to sausage making. 

    However, one doesn’t need a Phd in economics to pause before blindly accepting the widespread use of “food stamps” as evidence of necessity,rather than a symptom of a problem. Moreover, budgets not only involve expenditures, but taxation and borrowing. Yet while mouthing an empty platitude about a “shared sacrifice”, Bishop Blaire supports a policy that does nothing of the sort, instead it binds some citizens (he seems to think have unlimited means)  in involuntary servitude to others (whose poverty is presumed to be without fault and deserving of unquestioned relief) , and all in fealty to an all powerful sovereign central government.  Am I seriously to believe that human life and dignity are served by an ever burgeoning debt?

    If I were engaged to advise the Bishop’s I would tell them three things. First, shut up about economics until you obtain competent counsel  and that means people other than the ones that have been causing you to embarrass yourself in issuing grandiloquent nonsense for decades. doesn’t mean the present parade of activists brandishing Ivy pedigrees. Second, think KIS (keisters in seats) as the first and most important activity-your first job is to gather souls. Third, stop kidding yourselves. Inviting Obama to the Al Smith Dinner will not abate his or the rest of the statist left’s contempt for the Church. The modern left has made abortion, contraception and same-sex “marriage” into a an unholy trinity of counterfeit sacraments-and they intend to use them to obtain your submission, as an opening act for the subordination of the Church to the state, and pending insubordination, the removal of the Church from the public square.

    • Cynthia

      Agree! PS plural of Bishop is Bishops without the ‘

      • Adam Baum

        I saw that after cutting it loose. 

  • John son of John

    Once putting my mind again at ease thanks : )

    God blesS

  • Kirk Kramer
    • Carl

      How is this post relevant?  Ayn Rand agrees with Church teaching that central planning socialism and communism are intrinsically evil.  Are you calling Ryan a closet Atheist because he may agree with Rand on Free Market Church Teaching of Subsidiarity?  

      Please reference your point to the actual Ryan Budget without smoke and mirrors.

  • Carl

    Dispelling the Democrat Party Talking points, untruths, being posted on this thread:Ryan Budget expands corporate welfare—Page 13, Ending Corporate Welfare, “government overreach into the private economy” “End Cronyism and restore free enterprise”

    The “rich” will pay less, Really?  Page 59 Ryan calls for simplifying the tax code with the intent on remove the complexity and the tax exclusions used mostly by people with armies of tax lawyers.

    If you going to criticize the Ryan Budget at least post the page as a reference to prove your point!

    Ryan Budget,

  • Whatever happened to Church Leaders keeping their distance from policy?  If it comes to life issues, thats essential, but debating who is too capitalist and who “cuts” this or that too much isn’t the kind of leading a bishop should enter upon.  Surely there are doctinal matters when it comes to social justice, but this is too much opinion and little teaching.

  • Mom

    Ryan is OKAY and better than the opposition.CHOOSE WISELY as Samuel Johnson wrote a few centuries back.It is time for the hierarchy to learn from the follies of PennState and think of doing that which is right because it is right. In-fighting in the name of pomposity is dangerous.We need to protect, not point fingers in “pious” poses of self righteousness.Teilhard de Chardin wrote from the trenches of WW1 where he was a real stretcher -bearer administering to life saving healthcare and spiritual needs of wounded -“TRUST LIFE”. so start doing that as a jump-start. During the ROMAN years of persecution of early Christians,someone wrote,’See how those Christians love one another.’
     What has happened to us Catholics? We are not fundamentalist protestants.In allthings,charity, please and thank you.
     Vintage Trauma Nurse here

    • Cynthia

      Mom…you GO, Girl! Also…bet you can see how honestly debilitating such giveaway-programs as food stamps can be by setting up the “Stand Back and gimme….” millions whom the whole public educational corps has betrayed by not teaching…really TEACHING children the tools to WORK, SPEAK/FILL OUT APPLICATION FORMS/FEND FOR THEMSELVES in life, rather than living only with handouts! I worked for years with good people living in the projects and saw undereducated moms struggling to raise children who were also being indoctrinated to disrespect parents/family.  We should be getting off our rusty-dusties to create jobs, enable training for those who are undereducated and give them a chance for real dignity using their own God-given talents and initiative!!  Handing out food stamps and charity to keep people obligated to the hand giving them out is a deadly folly, as seen everywhere you look in our country now!!!

  • Cynthia

    It is PAST time for the Church to step to the plate and support thoughtfully and prayerfully fully vetted candidates and then…..STEP BACK and as this article states: let those who are in the know about the particulars and the people involved  handle the rest!!! We, Catholics and hopefully millions of “others”, have for so long been waving in the wind of complete buffoonery in the media full of speech-writers for folks who don’t realistically and honestly KNOW WHAT THEY ARE SETTING UP or WHO they are setting up to keep the status quo!!!! Thank you for bravely going where others dare not go….into this Final Frontier of Truth and Honesty!!! God bless all who do…as it is the saving of us all!!!!

  • Bobbylang

       The USCCB really has a LOT to learn!!   Reducing an increase is NOT a “CUT”!
       These Bishops have demonstrated over time their total ignorance(christian view) or absolute deference to the Liberal establishment in this nation! They have time and time again ignored basic church teaching in order to support abortionists, and groups driving contraception with complete disdain for the “fungibility” of money!
       Finally the USCCB in its ignorance lavishes monies in massive amounts to large charities BUT rarely follows up on the totality of those Charities distributions! they even challenge Catholics who point out the various organizations that are Pro-Gay marriage, pro-abortion, and generally anti catholic morality !!
       There is a reason for “Subsidiarity” and its a valid one, that the local priest knows the value of charity and the individuals to whom it is distributed!
       Yes it’s “Easy” to give to “Care”, BUT its also immoral to support contraception on a world wide basis!!
       The “USCCB” has a lot to learn and darn little time to do it!! 

    • Clement_W

      From the time I was a small child, my favorite passage in the Gospels has been “Suffer the little children to come unto me for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” I have a considerable educational background including an M.D., but, fortunately for me, I did not get specialized or get a Degree in theology. I say this because, for some reason, the Lord let me remain a child even as I went through and achieved my primary goal. I discovered over the years of Medical Practice that the  more specialized and the more research papers a physician had written, the breadth of vision became more and more constricted resulting in the current crisis in infections caused by resistant organisms are killing more people each year without any effective treatments available.

      In the field of Knowledge of God, my favorite scripture is Psalm 8:v.2 and 3 and the best translation is in the NAB – 2    O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! You have set your majesty above the heavens!
      3    Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have drawn a defense against your foes, to silence enemy and avenger.
      recently superceded by the less soaring NABRE version. The Masters and Doctorates that many, if not most of modern day Bishops, Arch-Bishops and Cardinals have is probably the cause of this state of affairs. The cautionary Word of God in 1 Samuel 8 with regard to human kings – applicable to Presidents, Prime Ministers in today’s political structure would be, perhaps should be required reading at all levels especially before dealing with the present day demi-gods.

    • John

      Are you sure you are looking at the ROMAN Catholic Church?  Seems more like the ENGLISH/AMERICAN  Catholic Church.  Where do you get off telling the entire body of Bishops of the U.S. that they are ignorant and “has a lot to learn.”
      If I were you I would leave the Church and find one more to my liking.

  • Jobs are the answer.There is a saying, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day – give him a net and he can catch fish for himself.The way to lift people out of poverty is to create jobs,food stamps are ok as a temporary solution,but you become subservient to those handing them out.Give a person a job and let him/her reduce their dependence by making them independent.There is dignity in work for those who are able to work.By all means keep a safety net in place,but by reducing the amount of people who need help you will be better able to help those who need it most.

  • Carl

    This is the best short letter on the issue of
    American politics I’ve ever read.  This
    letter should be included in all Catholic voting guides.

    Three critical points the Bishop addresses usually
    evoke trepidation and fear into most Catholics, and are vastly ignored, but are
    critical in applying our Christian faith to politics.

    problems and issues should be solved at the lowest level possible.
    involves an intrinsic evil and cannot be justified by any circumstances.

    right to private property is fundamental in the formation of a
    Catholic conscience.