* Boehner says spending cuts vital for economic well being
* House speaker acknowledges bishops have "moral argument"
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, April 18 The top Republican in the
U.S. Congress on Wednesday defended his party's proposed
deficit-c u tting federal budget plan against complaints by Roman
Catholic bishops that it would hurt the poor and violate certain
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner argued that
matters would worsen, with the government eventually unable to
afford programs for the needy, unless it stops spending more
money than it takes in.
Boehner, who is Catholic, acknowledged that the bishops have
a "moral argument," but said, "I want them to take a bigger
"The bigger look is if we don't make decisions (to slash
spending), these programs won't exist, and then they will really
have something to worry about," Boehner said at his weekly news
In defending the Republicans' proposed spending cuts,
Boehner did not mention another option to help reduce the
deficit - raising taxes, which his party opposes.
The spending plan drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman
Paul Ryan, a Republican who has become a hero to many
conservatives, has virtually no chance of becoming law because
it is opposed by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats
who control the U.S. Senate.
Yet its proposals to slash spending, particularly by
shrinking social safety net programs for the poor, promise to
make it a source of debate through the Nov. 6 congressional and
Ryan proposed major cuts to programs such as food stamps and
the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor while
reducing tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and for
corporations as it shrinks deficits and debt accumulation.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last
week, Ryan said his Catholic faith helped shape his budget.
"The preferential option for the poor, which is one of the
primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep
people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that
they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of
poverty," Ryan told CBN.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had no immediate
response to Boehner's comments.
But in recent weeks, it has sent letters to Capitol Hill,
criticizing the Ryan budget that has been embraced by the
party's presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
In these letters, bishops called for "a circle of
protection" around the poor and offered "moral criteria" to
guide budget choices.
"Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it
protects or threatens human life and dignity," they wrote,
adding that the "government and other institutions have a shared
responsibility to promote common good for all."
Boehner said: "If we don't begin to make some decisions
about getting our fiscal house in order, there won't be a safety
"You can't spend $1.3 trillion more than what you bring in -
that's what's going to happen this year, $5 trillion worth of
debt over the last five years - and think that this can
continue," Boehner said.
"We have to make hard decisions," Boehner said. "It's about
trying to make sure that we are able to preserve these programs
that are critically important for the poorest in our society."
The critique of the Republican budget plan by the bishops
follows a sharp dispute earlier in the year between U.S.
Catholic leaders and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, over
The Obama administration has mandated that nearly all health
insurance plans provide free birth control by this summer, with
limited accommodations for religious institutions that oppose
contraception on moral grounds. Top Catholic bishops have
blasted that mandate as an attack on religious freedom.