By Miguel De La Torre
Show me your checkbook, and I’ll show you your commitment to Christ and his gospel message of liberation and salvation.
Talk about following Jesus, apart from costly discipleship, has always been cheap. Commitment is measured by putting your money where your mouth is; or as Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21).
Rep. Paul Ryan, chosen by presidential candidate Mitt Romney to be his running mate, has imposed on the congressional purse strings his version of where the nation’s heart should be. Ryan’s vision for the U.S. is a total restructuring of the nation’s spending and taxing priorities for the 21st century; priorities which benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.
The success of the social safety net established during the New Deal could be measured by the return of wage levels to their pre-Depression era and the reduction of unemployment from almost 25 percent to nearly zero on the eve of the Second World War. By 1949, only a fifth of families were in the lowest earning quintile (or lowest 20 percent). The 1950s witnessed a drop in poverty levels from 32 percent at the start of the decade to 22 percent by decade’s end.
Meanwhile, median family income was 43 percent higher in 1959 than in 1950. During the 1960s, with the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights movement, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans, narrowed as unemployment dropped to a low 4.4 percent and income rose by 38 percent over 1959.
But the start of Reagan’s revolution in the 1980s led the income gap to dramatically widen as the middle class shrunk. If the Reagan revolution began to dismantle the social safety net created by the New Deal — responsible for lifting the majority of Americans out of poverty and spurring the greatest growth of income for the middle class — then Ryan’s budget will be the final nail on that coffin.
Specifically, Ryan calls for cutting some $6 trillion from spending; mainly from those who rely mostly on the social safety net. For example, Ryan looks to gutting Medicare and replacing it with a voucher program. Seniors will receive a fixed sum to buy private insurance, shifting the cost of health care. But when the voucher fails to keep pace with the rise of health costs, then seniors, those who can least afford it, will be left out in the cold.
Ryan’s plan calls for slashing some $4 trillion in corporate and individual taxes, mostly from those who can afford to pay the taxes. Justification for widening the wealth gap by cutting taxes on the richest of the rich is doggedly maintained by arguing that one should not tax the “job creators.” Such assertions fail to recognize how the super rich receive their outrageous salaries; specifically by firing or outsourcing middle-class jobs.
To make matters worse, Ryan’s budget plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office calculations, will not run any type of surplus for at least three decades. His budget will literally be paid by our grandchildren!
Ryan, who is Catholic, cites the Catholic Church’s social teachings as the inspiration for his budget. Ryan even goes so far as to say that his budget makes “a preferential option for the poor;” a phrase which is foundational for those of us who are liberation theologians and dedicate our lives to the disenfranchised.
Unfortunately for Ryan, Catholic representatives of the Vatican disagree with him. When he appeared at Georgetown University last spring, a statement from 60 Catholic theologians declared that his budget was “morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.”
In addition, 90 faculty and administration officials at Georgetown pointed out that Ryan’s budget plan “appears to reflect the values of [his] favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Even the committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a somewhat conservative group, wrote a letter to Congress criticizing Ryan’s budget.
I do not claim to know the heart of Congressman Ryan. But if a tree is known by its fruit; then the liberating and sweet fruits of the gospel do not hang on Ryan’s branches. What he proposes is diametrically opposed to the economic justice advocated not only by the Christian scriptures; but the tenets of pretty much all faith traditions.