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April 22, 2004
In the next few weeks, Congress will be finalizing a budget for the United States government, setting priorities for our nation. This process takes place in the face of major challenges: the costs of war and homeland security, a recovering economy with persistent unemployment, and the consequences of tax policy and entitlement programs. As President of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I urge you to give particular consideration to the human consequences and moral dimensions of your choices, since those decisions help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, and advance or jeopardize the future of our nation.
As pastors, we believe that a fundamental moral measure of our nation’s budget policy is whether it enhances or undermines the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our society. The needs of poor children and families of modest means are often overlooked. They deserve special priority as you allocate economic resources and burdens. The choices you make determine how future generations will be burdened and blessed.
All aspects of society, including government, should work together to secure adequate resources to assist those trying to escape joblessness or move beyond welfare, educate their children, gain health care coverage, or overcome hunger and homelessness. Our nation also has international responsibilities that require continued increases in international development assistance that will allow us to improve dramatically our nation's response to the tremendous development and health needs in Africa, to provide additional relief for the poorest people in other underdeveloped parts of the world, and to provide assistance and protection to refugees worldwide.
Even as the economy improves, the demand for human services continues to grow especially for those on the margins of economic life—people who want to work, but cannot find employment; families without health care coverage; and children who lack adequate education and housing that will help them grow into responsible and productive adults. Preserving an adequate safety net for the poor and vulnerable is a fundamental moral obligation of a responsible society that must be balanced along with priorities like homeland security and military expenditures.
Deficits can be justified as a necessary and temporary response to particular serious circumstances, but if government spends far more money than it takes in year after year, it could raise profound economic and moral questions. One of the most basic purposes of government, we believe, is to raise the money necessary to pay for the common needs of our society. When so many human and social needs go unmet, we must insist that adequate federal revenues be available to meet these needs. We urge you to ensure that any tax proposals adopted will not jeopardize our ability to meet our moral obligation to respond to basic human needs now and in the future.
An attachment to this letter identifies some of key domestic and international programs which could be impacted by the constraints of the 2005 budget process and includes some recommended actions based upon our application of Catholic teaching.
As pastors, we seek to raise some moral questions that should shape the fiscal debate. In these tough times, there are few easy choices. With war, the struggling economy and persistent unemployment, mounting deficits, and the demands of homeland security, we must ask “How can our nation best protect its people and advance the dignity of all?” Finding the right balance among these priorities will require making difficult choices and a commitment to protect poor and vulnerable people at home and around the world.
Most Reverend Wilton Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The International Affairs allocation that was contained in the House-adopted budget resolution is woefully underfunded. We urge you to support the amount budgeted by the Senate ($31.9 billion) for international Affairs in order to help ensure that the U.S. meets its commitments on the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and HIV/AIDS, while strengthening existing development and humanitarian programs.
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