By Tom Chapman
The time between now and Christmas is a critical time when we meet with key legislators and other groups to plan for the upcoming Iowa legislative session, which begins Jan. 14. Our goal at the Iowa Catholic Conference is to promote public policy that protects human life and respects the human person. You can take a look at our legislative agenda at www.iowacatholicconference.org.
At the federal level, negotiations have begun between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders in an effort to avoid automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in January. Unless Congress and the president decide otherwise, a “sequestration” (cancellation of budget resources) will cut federal discretionary spending between eight and 10 percent. That would add up to about $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over a 10-year period.
According to the bishops who oversee the justice and peace efforts at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Congress should avoid measures that harm at-risk students, low-income families and people currently benefiting from poverty-focused international assistance.
“As you work to avoid sequestration and enact responsible deficit reduction that protects poor persons from cuts and future generations from unsustainable debts, we hope longstanding moral principles and values will inform your decisions,” wrote Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, in a Nov. 13 letter to the House and Senate. Bishops Blaire and Pates chair the USCCB Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, respectively.
The bishops said Pope Benedict XVI warns against “downsizing of social security systems” and emphasizes “solidarity with poor countries” and asked Congress to weigh the “human and moral consequences” of numerous policy choices, including:
• Section 8 housing vouchers, the Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) program and community health centers, which “help to keep children and families with a roof over their heads, with food on the table, and in good health.”
• Title I-A, which supports struggling low-income students, Title II-A, which supports the professional development of teachers, and IDEA, which supports students with disabilities.
• Poverty focused international assistance, which comprise less than one percent of the federal budget and “save lives, treat and prevent disease, make farmers more productive, help orphans, feed victims of disaster, and protect refugees.”
• The Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Pell Grants, which assist “people living in or near poverty.”
“We have great concerns that sequestration would negatively affect many important domestic programs that meet the basic needs of people and communities in poverty,” the bishops wrote and urged Congress to “act in a bipartisan manner to address the impact of long-term deficits on the health of the economy and on future generations, and to use limited resources efficiently and effectively. However, this important goal must not be achieved at the expense of the dignity of poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.”
The full text of the letter is available on the USCCB website: www.usccb.org.
Health and Human Services mandate
I have received some questions about what the bishops intend to do about the “HHS mandate” now that the elections are over. You may recall that the mandate would forbid Americans from providing or purchasing health coverage unless it includes female surgical sterilizations, FDA-approved prescription drugs and devices for preventing pregnancy — including drugs and devices which can destroy a human life at its earliest stages — and “counseling and education” to promote these to all women and girls of childbearing age. Many Church organizations would most likely be required to make contraception as a part of their insurance plans in violation of their own teaching.
This issue remains of great interest to the bishops as the “safe harbor” period for many Church organizations ends Aug. 1, 2013. There are ongoing federal legislative efforts to eliminate the mandate. In addition, discussions with the White House, and lawsuits against the mandate on First Amendment grounds, may create a solution.
The Church continues to advocate for life-affirming health care for all, especially for poor and vulnerable people. We do not see the current mandate as a step in that direction.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Migration, urged President Obama and the newly elected Congress to work together to enact comprehensive immigration reform that upholds the rule of law, preserves family unity and protects the human rights and dignity of individuals. He also urged fellow Catholics to make their voices heard in support of the issue.
As we think about buying Christmas gifts we have an opportunity to support economic development projects at home and around the world. For more information, take a look at www.usccb.org/about/justice-peace-and-human-development/alternative-gifts.cfm.
(Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)