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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Boehner at the Catholic University of America

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Boehner at the Catholic University of America

President Obama is not the only politician to land in an awkward political position (See “Obama on Government Jobs”). As House Speaker John Boehner prepared to deliver a commencement speech at the Catholic University of America he was greeted with a letter signed by 70 signatories including faculty, priests and nuns that chided him for cuts in the social safety net contained in the budget that he guided through the House.  In part, the letter read (transcript),
Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.

The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
I once read the majority of a book used in a Catholic high school that suggested social policies that Catholics in a market oriented society should support.  That ideas the book were consistent with the values expressed in the letter.  Both suggest that Catholics should support a government that actively helps the poor.  Normative values are visions of what ought to be and as such are close to impossible to argue against and a vision of government rendering assistance to the poor is probably held by most Americans.  I hold similar normative beliefs but different positive interpretation about how markets work and the impact of many social policies on the poor and the economy as a whole.  I would not use the same policies the signatories to achieve their objectives.  More often than not, policies that support competitive markets are best at aiding the poor.

In a similar vain, Speaker Boehner’s budget is defendable as aiding the poor.  The budget cuts he supported are significant but less significant than the cuts that will be forced on the government should the national debt continue to grow unabated.  A sovereign crisis could be more severe than the market crash of 2008.  

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