WASHINGTON -- Catholic and other religious leaders continue to urge members of Congress to remember the needs of the poor while they debate the federal budget.
"The spending choices of Congress have clear moral and human dimensions; they reflect our values as a people," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
"Some current proposals call for substantial reductions, particularly in those programs that serve the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation. In a time of economic crisis, poor and vulnerable people are in greater need of assistance, not less," he said in a March 4 letter to the U.S. Senate.
He reiterated a similar plea he made in a Feb. 14 letter to Congress.
The bishop cited more than $5 billion in proposed cuts to programs for those in need, including community health centers, affordable housing, job training programs, education programs for low-income people and refugee funding.
He acknowledged the need to address the federal deficit but said it should be done through shared sacrifice not by creating greater insecurity for the poor. He also voiced support for provisions that continue to ban federal abortion funding and restore the ban in the District of Columbia.
In late February, Congress averted a government shutdown by enacting a stopgap spending measure to fund federal agencies for a two-week period and give legislators and the Obama administration a chance to negotiate a budget compromise for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The House passed a funding bill that would slash current spending levels by more than $60 billion but the bill was not expected to pass in the Senate.
In a Feb. 22 letter to the Senate, Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, also urged priority be given to programs that protect the poor and said international assistance cannot be given short shrift.
"Shared sacrifice is one thing," said Hackett and Bishop Hubbard in the letter. "It is another to make disproportionate cuts in programs that serve the most vulnerable. It is morally unacceptable for our nation to balance its budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad."
"The church views international assistance as an essential tool to promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poor nations, and enhance security throughout the world," the two said.
Evangelical leaders also expressed their concern about federal budget cuts by issuing their own proposal on how to ease the country's financial concerns March 3.
The statement, "A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis," calls for "fiscal frugality and compassionate action" and proposes concrete ways of cutting the debt while protecting the poor and making moral investments for the future of the nation and world.
The statement's specific proposals include cutting defense spending, curbing health care costs, closing corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, and cutting wasteful subsidy programs, while fully funding domestic and international programs that empower and protect the most vulnerable and prevent hunger and suffering.
The leaders' proposal emphasized the need for shared sacrifice and placing the common good above self-interest.