he U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to the House Agriculture Committee this week, criticizing the House Republican budget for cutting food stamps and other social programs too drastically. Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, says his Catholic faith served as a guide when he wrote the spending plan, and that runaway government debt is what will really damage programs for the poor. But the bishops say making disproportionately large cuts to the food stamp program — $33 billion in reductions over 10 years — fails to meet the church's "moral criteria" to "serve poor and vulnerable people." Is slashing spending on food stamps really immoral?
Yes. We have to help those in need: More Americans than ever are struggling in this sour economy, says Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite in The Washington Post, and it's our "moral responsibility" to help them. "The 'small government' or even 'no government' folks want to say that the churches should pick up the slack on taking care of the poor instead of us paying taxes for a social safety net." But churches simply "can't do it all without the government."
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Solving the debt crisis is more important: "The morality of a budget cannot be evaluated solely in terms of government welfare spending," says Ryan Messmore at The Foundry. Ryan is trying, through his budget, to funnel social assistance to those who really need it and restore "the financial viability of the nation," so that reckless deficit spending doesn't bankrupt the government and force even more drastic cuts. That's how you look out for "the long-term well-being of the poor."
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There are better ways to cut costs: Republicans argue that skyrocketing food stamp spending is evidence that the program has become a "hammock" rather than a safety net, says David Dayen at Firedoglake. That's "patently ridiculous" — the welfare-distribution rolls expanded during the recession "out of need, not out of government generosity." If the GOP wants to find savings, why not the Agriculture Department's subsidies to farmers — which the government sometimes pays to entice farmers not to grow food — instead of slashing aid to "poor people who need the food"?
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