In budget matters, let's remember 'the least of these'

December 5, 2011

Cardinal DiNardo was among the local religious leaders who wrote a Houston Chronicle Op-Ed about promoting the common good of all in difficult economic times.

Below is the their text:

Published Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011

For decades, presidents and congressional leaders have struggled to break the political gridlock that perpetuates federal deficit spending. Success has been elusive - especially when trying to strike the right balance between living within our means and protecting our poorest and most vulnerable.

The federal government's latest failure to address the deficit problem came at the hands of the recently disbanded Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, more commonly referred to as the supercommittee. This bipartisan group had been tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in deficit-reduction measures over the next 10 years or face automatic across-the-board cuts in 2013. Despite the dramatic risks involved, neither side ultimately demonstrated collective responsibility to control government expenditures while passing a sustainable spending plan for future generations.

Now we are back to square one. President Obama has said he will veto any bill that seeks to postpone the draconian cuts the supercommittee was supposed to avoid. Uncertainties abound, as we inch ever-closer to fiscal calamity. Our greatest fear is that whatever approach policymakers try next will disregard morally appropriate solutions and disproportionately reduce spending for programs that care for the unborn, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate the young and care for the sick both at home and abroad.

The task at hand is vital. The ranks of the nation's poorest have climbed to a record high, with some 46 million Americans living in poverty. That's more than ever before in our history. Unemployment rates remain dangerously close to double digits and one in four children go to bed hungry each night. Despite the obvious need, only one in seven Americans (some 36 million people) receives government food assistance to ensure they have enough to eat; approximately 3.5 million are homeless.

We cannot let this situation continue. As we approach the holiday season, with its shared messages of charity and love, we would do well to remember that the federal budget is a moral document. Within its line items are essential programs that millions rely upon to sustain and secure themselves and their families. It would be wrong to balance future budgets by burdening those who already suffer by cutting programs for food support, affordable housing, child nutrition, health care or international poverty assistance.

As a nation we have long prided ourselves on possessing strongly held values: reliability, faith, compassion. Our history demonstrates an ongoing commitment to those values here in America and throughout the world. We pray that our lawmakers uphold those values when taking into account those who depend on them - including the unborn, schoolchildren, the elderly, struggling families, those who are homeless or sick, and refugees in our country and abroad - by maintaining and prioritizing funding to the most vulnerable.

Our congregations and other faith groups assume much of the responsibility for serving our vulnerable brethren, but we cannot do so alone. Recognizing the responsibility of government to provide for the common good, we join as an interfaith community to encourage lawmakers to use their authority to direct resources where they will best promote the common good of all, especially "the least of these" who struggle to live in dignity in difficult times. Limiting spending requires shared sacrifice by all, and we encourage lawmakers to consider eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, while also raising adequate revenues to fund critical programs and services.

A fundamental moral measure of our nation's budget decisions is whether they enhance or undermine the lives and dignity of those most in need. We hope and pray that our nation will be proud of the decisions our president and congress must make to limit unsustainable spending while simultaneously demonstrating the integrity that our nation is known for - integrity that demands that we hear and heed the cries of those most in need of our support and protection.

This article was submitted by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston; Bishop Janice Huie-Riggle, Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church; The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Texas; Bishop Michael Rinehart, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, pastor, St. John Fisher Catholic Church; Rabbi David Rosen, senior rabbi, Congregation Beth Yeshurun; Rev. Mike Cole, general presbyter, Presbytery of New Covenant; Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr., pastor, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church; Rev. John Bowie, pastor emeritus, True Light Missionary Baptist Church; and Rabbi David Lyon, senior rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel.