An exchange of letters between G.O.P. budgetary whiz-kid Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and N.Y. Archbishop and U.S.C.C.B. President Tim Dolan may offer some political cover to Republican Catholics like Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as they make their case for the House budget and provisions on Medicare/caid that Presidential Candidate, fellow Catholic, Newt Gingrich, called radical (well, at least for one news cycle he did). (Hat-tip to The Hill.)
Boehner and Ryan both released copies of the letter from Archbishop Timothy Dolan; Boehner perhaps in the belief that it may also deflect some of the heat he endured after his selection as commencement speaker at the Catholic University of America provoked a scolding on basic Catholic principles like the preferential option for the poor from national Catholic academics.
Some may try to use Dolan's letter as an endorsement of the Ryan plan, but a careful read indicates a series of endorsements not for the House budget but for statements in Ryan's letter that it was/is his intention is to remain in line with Catholic teaching in crafting his budget proposals. For instance, note how Dolan directs his comments to Ryan's letter, not the budget he put together: "I commend your letter’s attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility; sensitivity to the foundational role of the family; the primacy of the dignity of the human person and the protection of all human life; a concrete solicitude for the poor and the vulnerable, especially those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty; and putting into practice the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, here at home and internationally within the context of a commitment to the common good shared by government and other mediating institutions alike."
In his initial missive Ryan's essentially argues that he is attempting to attend to the church principles on the treatment of the least by preventing a future fiscal/social meltdown which would surely hurt the poor worst of all. No question (I guess, though a Greek-style meltdown followed by looting in the streets seem about as likely as the CDC's Zombie Apocalypse), but this propostion relies on a basic fallacy that the country faces two stark choices—cutbacks now that will hurt the poor or fiscal/social collapse that will hurt the poor. Isn't it possible to set the nation on the path to fiscal sanity in a measured way, as the bishops argue, that doesn't add more burdens onto the poor and the unemployed during a period of intense economic uncertainty?
In closing, Dolan invites himself, along with Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire and Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard, to a sit down to further discuss all things budgetary and Catholic. Since both Blaire, head of the Committee on Domestic Justice, and Hubbard, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, have already issued several letters of concern regarding many of the budget cuts proposed by the House fiscal plan, it will be interesting to see if Ryan agrees to hear them make their case in person. Dolan may have to play the role of cajoler in chief to see a cordial conclusion to that encounter.