Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Budget Committee Reactions to Sister Simone Campbell's Testimony

At Loyola University-New Orleans
Sister Simone Campbell, president of the Catholic Social Justice Lobby Network, testified before the House Budget Committee last week.  We posted a video of her comments a few days ago.

The chair of the committee is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who openly supports cutting federal spending on safety-net nutrition programs.  While we focused on Sister Simone's testimony, there was initially little information about how Rep. Ryan and other members of the Budget committee reacted.  Here is some information from  U.S.Catholic magazine, which takes a middle ground on the issue (defending both approaches).

Ryan, in his opening remarks, acknowledged the country’s failures in the war on poverty and blamed government programs as being part of the problem, not the solution. To Ryan, the supposed safety net is actually a hindrance to the poor that keeps them from getting out of poverty, and it is our local communities, not the federal government, that should be taking the lead in helping people in need. Ryan did, however, welcome a conversation on how to rethink our approach to poverty and, most importantly, how to get people out of it. 

While Rep. Ryan and Sister Simone fully disagree on the approach to address poverty,there has at least been some conversation between the two.  And this was reflected at the hearing.  Here is an account from Greg Kaufman,  a staff member of Moyers & Co.

Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee used her allotted time to try to discredit the sole Democratic witness...“You said you come to this hearing today as a Catholic sister living under Christian tradition,” said Rep. Blackburn. “Would it be fair for this Committee to question the validity of your testimony knowing that the Vatican has reprimanded the Leadership Conference on the Women Religious and singled out your organization for only promoting issues of social justice, and being silent on the right to life from conception to natural death?”

Sr. Simone replied that the exchange with the Vatican was about “theological struggles, not about our engagement in political activity, and our organization works on economic issues.”  Republican Chairman Paul Ryan seemingly admonished Rep. Blackburn, albeit indirectly, telling Sr. Simone: “Speaking as a Catholic who usually disagrees with you on some of these issues, I think you are very well within Catholic social teachings to give the testimony that you gave here today.”

The bottom line, as Sister Simone pointed out, is that the problem cannot be addressed at the local level or by having churches pick up the role of providing assistance because of the magnitude of the problem. 

Sr. Simone said the need for government assistance is more about the “dimension of the issue.”  She noted a Bread for the World study that calculated the funds religious institutions would have had to raise if the food stamp cuts proposed in last year’s House Republican budget had been implemented.  She said “every church, synagogue, mosque, and house of worship in the United States” would have needed to raise $50,000 in additional monies — every year, for ten years.

Read Greg Kaufman's full article, entitled Chairman Ryan and the Real World.

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