Nuns’ shared-sacrifice pitch rings true

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: June 22 2012 | 12:01 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 8:45 pm in

The Gazette Editorial Board

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The nuns spoke softly, but they brought a very big bus.

“Nuns on the Bus” came to Cedar Rapids a few days ago on their national bus tour to call attention to a Republican congressional budget plan that they insist would “decimate” the social safety net.

The plan’s author, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, contends that his budget blueprint was informed by his Catholic faith and teachings. The nuns begged to differ. “My astute political analysis was ‘liar, liar pants on fire,’” said Sister Simone Campbell of the Washington D.C.-based social services lobbying group Network.

The nuns’ basic argument is that broad cuts or changes in social programs such as Medicare and food assistance proposed by Ryan’s plan would deny millions of Americans access to the help they need in tough economic times. And they question the contention that charities and churches can make up the gap. For one thing, many churches and charities partner with the government to provide programs, and would struggle without that help. Campbell said Bread for the World, a faith-based anti-hunger advocacy group, estimates that every religious congregation in the country would have to raise $50,000 annually to just make up for the proposed cut in food assistance.

It’s tough to not proclaim “Amen, sisters,” to the nuns’ potent pitch. Yet the fact of the matter is that the United States faces a huge budget deficit and mountain of federal debt. It’s clear that federal spending can’t continue on the course it’s on, and that includes the social safety net. That’s the hard truth.

But what’s also true is that, as the nuns point out, this nation has, in the past, come together to solve big problems with a sense of fairness and shared sacrifice. And while the Ryan plan tries admirably to solve some very big problems, the sacrifices it calls for can hardly be called shared.

While Ryan’s plan restructures and makes reductions in social programs, it hands out billions in new tax reductions, largely to corporations and upper-income earners. And those tax cuts blunt the plan’s ability to slice the deficit and debt, pushing real gains off into distant decades. Ryan says he would offset the impact of those cuts by closing an array of loopholes and deductions. He won’t say which ones, but axing some of the largest ones, for health insurance, mortgage interest, etc., would lead to a significant tax increase for middle income families.

It would seem that a more balanced approach, that exacts necessary, reasonable sacrifices up and down the economic ladder, not just at the bottom rungs, would be more responsible, effective and better for the country. If the nuns can somehow steer us to that middle ground, they deserve a busload of credit.

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