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What are Paul Ryan and Archbishop Timothy Dolan Up to?

(image: twolf1)

Paul Ryan Gets a Boost from Catholic Bishops” said the headline in Politico yesterday, describing a letter from USCCB President Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. But reading the article makes me wonder if the reporter read the earlier letter from Ryan to Dolan [pdf], or an earlier letter from two prominent Catholic bishops to members of Congress last month.

Ryan’s letter strikes me as very, very misleading. Given that he’s writing to a bishop, he probably ought not to be telling lies. Sadly, none of these get challenged or even noticed in Haberkorn’s piece at Politico. Instead, she seems to take Dolan’s letter at face value as providing cover to Ryan.

Let me offer a couple of tidbits from Ryan:

Our Budget contains a work-related measure specifically addressed to the need of lower income earners for job training. There are now dozens of inconsistent and overlapping job training programs scattered across federal agencies. We have consolidated them into more accessible, accountable career scholarships that empower workers to choose training programs that best help them compete in the global economy. Work Scholarships will help advance the upward social mobility of younger, undereducated, and new American citizens.

If college grads from the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011 are having trouble finding jobs, I don’t think the solution is more scholarships. Yes, folks need training, but when those people who already have training are applying for McJobs by the millions, I don’t think scholarships are the answer we are looking for.

More from Ryan:

Our Budget revitalizes Medicare’s protection for America’s seniors. It’s an “under-55” plan’ that does not change Medicare for current or near retirees. For those now 54 and under, our proposal opens up a broad variety of approved health insurance plans from which each beneficiary chooses the best option for his or her needs. The federal government makes Medicare premium payments (not “vouchers,” as wrongly claimed) to the guaranteed health coverage plan that works best for the individual and their family, giving future beneficiaries access to the same kinds of health care options that Members of Congress now enjoy. The proposal is consistent with the preferential option for the poor, providing more support for low income groups and the sick, and slows the growth of support for the wealthiest Americans with less need. These reforms protect and preserve Medicare – with no disruptions – for current seniors and those nearing retirement, and offer a strengthened, personalized Medicare program that future generations can count on.

Also, up is down and black is white.

Future generations of PhRMA and Big Insurance can count on this new version of Medicare, perhaps, but not those 54 and under. Look at it this way: if these reforms strengthen Medicare, then why not strengthen it for current retirees? Notice, too, how Ryan doesn’t mention the caps on the premium payments — please don’t call them “vouchers”!. (And I thought the GOP loved vouchers. Or is that just for folks to take their tax money and give it to religious and private schools? But I digress . . .)

The only “preferential option for the poor” (good RC language, there) that I see in Ryan’s proposal is a preference for putting budget reform on their backs. And it’s not just me that sees this. Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says Ryan’s plan  “would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.” Ezra Klein notes that “The [Medicare] proposal would shift risk from the federal government to seniors themselves.” Building on a Kaiser Commission on Medicaid study, FDL’s Jon Walker says that Ryan’s medicare plan is a “one-two punch to older Americans.”

Not much “preferential option for the poor” in any of that.

Ryan knows his/her way around RC code language (cf. the discussion of subsidiarity and “Blessed Pope John Paul the Great” — catnip to the extreme rightwing RCs), and is apparently willing to twist it to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the President of the USCCB. He quotes one of JPII’s strongest anti-communism encyclicals, Centesimus Annus, and tries to claim he’s just following JPII as he attempts to paint Democrats as closet communists.

But consider what JPII actually said in 1991, quoting at times Pope Leo XIII from 100 years earlier (emphasis added):

The State cannot limit itself to “favouring one portion of the citizens”, namely the rich and prosperous, nor can it “neglect the other”, which clearly represents the majority of society. Otherwise, there would be a violation of that law of justice which ordains that every person should receive his due. “When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenceless and the poor have a claim to special consideration. The richer class has many ways of shielding itself, and stands less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back on, and must chiefly depend on the assistance of the State. It is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong to the latter class, should be specially cared for and protected by the Government”.

These passages are relevant today, especially in the face of the new forms of poverty in the world, and also because they are affirmations which do not depend on a specific notion of the State or on a particular political theory. Leo XIII is repeating an elementary principle of sound political organization, namely, the more that individuals are defenceless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of governmental authority.

Funny how Ryan didn’t mention these parts of Blessed Pope John Paul the Great’s encyclical.

Back on April 13th, two other Roman Catholic bishops wrote to every member of Congress regarding the budget discussions [pdf]: Howard Hubbard, Chair, US Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace and Stephen Blaire, Chair, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. From their letter, and the three criteria by which they offer to “guide difficult budgetary decisions,” it seems clear that they’ve read all of Centesimus Annus:

1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

Hubbard and Blaire get it, though Dolan and Ryan do not.

Maybe Haberkorn’s last sentence points us toward an explanation: “Until 2009, Dolan served as archbishop of Milwaukee, near Ryan’s Wisconsin district.” Paul Krugman summed up Paul Ryan last August as “the Flimflam Man.” It appears that Ryan’s old friend from Milwaukee is trying to help him shed that label, or else he’s been taken in by the Flimflam Man’s latest con.

Neither one makes Dolan look good at all.


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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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