House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan sought to tamp down concerns from Catholic leaders about the impact of his budget proposal on the poor during a speech at Georgetown University Thursday.
The Ryan budget has drawn criticism from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and from over 100 Georgetown faculty who charged the Budget Committee chairman with distorting Catholic social teaching.
“I suppose there are some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts… not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our Church. Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this,” Ryan said . “The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it.
“What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.”
Ryan warned that the nation’s debt levels are on an unsustainable and the nation needs to take action today to restrain the rate of growth of entitlements to avoid becoming like Greece, which he said require serious discuss.
“Well, we have exhausted the other possibilities. After four straight trillion-dollar deficits, and very little economic progress to show for it, I think we know what doesn’t work,” Ryan said. “We also have a growing consensus around the ideas that will work. But we lack willing partners at the highest levels to lead us, to unite us, and to address our defining challenge.”
But liberal Catholics are not buying it. Approximately 30 Georgetown students and others connected with the liberal group Catholics United picketed outside of the speech accusing the chairman of trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us [as Catholics] because so much of American politics has divided us on every issue except probably this one,” said Taylor Reese, a student protester.
Reese went on to insinuate that Catholics were united along the lines of “traditional leftist” causes of “helping the poor”.
Asked whether he felt that $15 to $20 trillion worth of added debt was worth the price of keeping social spending at current elevated levels, Reese deflected saying he was acting out of “obedience to the Roman Catholic Church.”
Catholics United spokesman Chris Pumpelly told Red Alert Politics that his group and other liberal Catholics wanted to send the message that the Catholics faith should not be “used as a weapon against the poor.”
“If you are going to speak as a person of faith, you are not going to use it to punish the poor,” Pumpelly said.
Other student demonstrators slammed Ryan’s tax cut proposals and the absence of a discussion of defense spending in his address.
“Why is Rep. Ryan proposing to cut income taxes for the top 1 percent, those in the top income bracket from 35 percent to 25 percent and he’s not making any cuts in defense?” a student protester asked.
The protester then dismissed Red Alert Politics’ question asking how a nation could tax itself to prosperity as “ridiculous” saying that the top tax bracket had been 91 percent in the 1950s, implying that those tax rates were not a hindrance to economic growth.
However, Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert said the protesters are misinformed, noting that the Budget Committee chairman has not proposed any real cuts in social spending, but rather has proposed reducing the rate of growth compared with the president’s budget and current law.
“They are attempting to put up a moral straw man,” Seifert said.
Ryan wants to make the programs that serve the poor more efficient and effective because the poor will be the first to be hurt in the event of a Greece-style debt crisis, according to Seifert.
The Ryan budget also would cut $78 billion in defense spending over the next decade in accordance with recommendations from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.