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February 15, 2005
In the coming weeks, Congress will be called upon to adopt a budget resolution for the United States government, setting priorities for our nation. These decisions will reflect not only economic policies but moral choices as well. As President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I urge you to give priority attention in the budget to the needs of poor and vulnerable people both here and abroad.
The nation’s budget priorities should include social investments that promote the well-being of the poor in our country and around the world, investments in the health of our nation and the peace of the world. Preserving an adequate safety net for the poor and vulnerable at home, protecting refugees fleeing persecution abroad, and promoting human development in poor countries are fundamental moral obligations of a responsible society that must be met alongside other priorities like homeland security and military expenditures.
One of the basic functions of government is to raise sufficient resources so that it can undertake efforts to promote the common good. When the basic requirements of human life and dignity for many in our country and throughout the world go unmet, we must insist that adequate federal revenues be available to help meet these basic needs. The deficits, which result from inadequate revenues, can be justified as a necessary response to serious circumstances. However, if government continues to spend far more money than it takes in year after year, it could seriously limit its ability to meet our moral obligations to respond to basic human needs now and in the future. Any new tax proposals should be evaluated in that light before being adopted.
Congress should structure a budget that guarantees adequate funding to assist those trying to escape joblessness or move beyond welfare, educate their children, gain access to health care, or overcome hunger and homelessness. Our nation also has international responsibilities that require increased investments in promoting peace and security as well as international development. Such investments and assistance could well improve dramatically our nation's response to relief, development, and health needs in Africa and other underdeveloped parts of the world and to provide urgently needed assistance and protection to refugees.
In January, Pope John Paul II reminded us of our obligation to the common good: “Each person, in some way, is called to work for the common good, constantly looking out for the good of others as if it were his own. This responsibility belongs in a particular way to political authorities at every level, since they are called to create that sum of social conditions which permit and foster in human beings the integral development of their person.” (World Day Of Peace Message, January 2005)
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 those most in need. Sadly, political pressure frequently has left poor children and families missing in the national debate and without a place at the table. Our nation needs a genuinely bipartisan commitment to focus on the common good of all and on the special needs of the poor and vulnerable in particular. These are tough times. There are few easy choices. But there are some “right” choices. In a time of war, mounting deficits, and growing needs, our nation’s leaders must ensure that there are adequate resources to protect people who are poor and vulnerable both at home and around the world.
Most Reverend William S. Skylstad
Bishop of Spokane
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