Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan defended the Republican budget from progressive Catholic criticisms in a Thursday morning speech at Georgetown University.
“I suppose there are some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts… not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our Church,” Ryan said. “Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this.”
“The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it,” he added. “What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.”
Church officials, liberal Catholics and members of the Georgetown faculty have criticized Ryan and his budget for what they perceive as a lack of concern for seniors and low-income Americans.
A Catholic himself, Ryan jokingly acknowledged that he had received some complaints from the Georgetown faculty and said that he had a copy of the budget handy in case anyone wanted to have a “fact-based” discussion of the plan.
“The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt,” Ryan said. “The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’ and ‘living in untruth.’”
Ryan also criticized President Obama for his “unwillingness to advance credible solutions to the problem” of America’s debt and deficits.
“He does not seem to understand that he can’t promote the common good by setting class against class, or group against group,” Ryan said.
Describing America’s rapidly growing national debt as “a gathering storm” that “has already hit Europe,” Ryan insisted that the government’s response has been lackluster and even harmful to the long-term health of America’s economy.
“If our generation fails to meet its defining challenge, we would see America surrender her independence to the army of foreign creditors who now own roughly half of our public debt,” he said.
Ryan promised that his budget, which has been passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, would “promote economic growth and opportunity starting today, with bold reforms to the tax code and a credible, principled plan to prevent a debt crisis from ever happening.”
Obama, Ryan added, is “clearly threatened” by an “alternative vision” that is both fiscally and morally sound.
“Simply put, I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government,” Ryan said.
“Look at the results of the government-centered approach to the war on poverty,” he continued. “One in six Americans are in poverty today – the highest rate in a generation. In this war on poverty, poverty is winning. We need a better approach.”
Quoting his mentor and old boss Jack Kemp, the late Republican congressman and spending hawk who was instrumental in passing many of the fiscal reforms of the Reagan years, Ryan said, “You can’t help America’s poor by making America poor.”
Ryan also pushed back on Obama’s suggestion that his budget amounted to “Social Darwinism.”
“Of course, we disagree with that characterization,” said Ryan. “Our plan offers the best way to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all of our nation’s seniors for generations to come.”