Is there a Catholic approach to the debt ceiling debate?

The official stance of the USCCB opposes the cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as proposed by House Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan. The need for Catholicism’s opposition is especially important because of how such cuts have been twined with the requirement upon Congress to raise the debt limit. Regardless of how the debt ceiling is confronted, beneath today’s partisanship in Washington is a much larger issue about social inequality and the role of government in addressing social injustice.

The division between rich and poor in the United States is reaching Third World proportions. Since 1979, the income for U.S. workers in real dollars has stagnated. Meanwhile, wealth has been concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Today, 400 multi-billionaires have more money than the bottom 60 percent of the country’s population. That’s 400 persons with more wealth than 180,000,000 Americans combined. People may debate why there is such inequality of income: but none can deny the fact.

I think it is important for Catholic America to quickly recognize that the unseemly partisan fighting about whether the deficit will be reduced when the rich will loose tax loopholes (most Democrats) or when only spending will be cut (most Republicans) is a surrogate argument about the social fabric of the United States. Is Capitalism in America to be unbridled? Or should the people rely on elected government to limit the power and wealth of the few in the papal call for Social Democracy? I believe the answer to that question transcends partisan politics. Nonetheless, in the real world people have to make strategic choices among imperfect options – call it compromise – in order to move towards a more just society. To escape the laissez-faire Capitalism that brought about the Great Depression in 1929, Americans voted for a New Deal that placed elected government as arbiter between the excesses of the few and the needs of the many. Something like that radical choice is now called for by our society at the end of the Great Recession. [more]


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