Editor's note: In light of Rep. Paul Ryan's new role on the GOP White House ticket, we wanted to re-run an exclusive interview with Paul Ryan that appeared in the June installment of Townhall Magazine on what's become a hot topic in this race: his budget.
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, has taken heat from various members of the Catholic Church on his proposed budget. He answers those critics here in an exclusive interview with S.E. Cupp for the June issue of Townhall Magazine.
When GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin presented his proposed budget this year, it wasn’t surprising that Democrats didn’t like it. The president, in fact, called it “thinly-veiled Social Darwinism.” But what was surprising was the push-back he received from the Conference of Catholic Bishops and some scholars at Georgetown University, who asserted that it was contrary to Catholic teaching. S.E. Cupp asked Ryan, himself a Catholic, about the uproar in a recent exclusive interview:
S.E. Cupp: The Conference of Catholic Bishops called the proposed cuts in your budget “unacceptable” and “unjustified and wrong,” and said the budget “fails to meet [Catholic] moral criteria.” How can Catholics have such divergent views on the same issue?
Paul Ryan: These are matters for prudential judgment, and people of good will can have a difference of opinion on these important issues. There’s plenty of room to disagree on how best to advance the common good and the principles of the Social Magisterium. I cannot claim exclusive justification for my application of Catholic social teaching. What I can say is that I believe the reforms in the House-passed budget are in complete accord with Catholic social truths as I understand them.
As a congressman and Catholic layman, I really feel that Catholic social truths are in accord with the “self-evident truths” our Founders bequeathed to us at our nation’s founding: independence, limited government and the dignity and freedom of every human person. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, it’s my job to apply these enduring principles to the urgent social problems of our time: an economy that is not providing enough opportunities for our citizens, a safety net that is failing our most vulnerable populations, and a crushing burden of debt that is threatening our children and grandchildren with a diminished future.
We cannot continue to ignore this problem. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has rightly termed such irresponsible debt burdens as “living in untruth … at the expense of future generations.” In approaching this problem as a lay Catholic in public life, I have found it useful to apply the twin principles of solidarity (recognition of the common ties that unite all human beings in equal dignity) and subsidiarity (respect for the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groups such as families, businesses, schools, local communities and state governments).
Our budget incorporates solidarity by recognizing a critical role for government in providing a strong safety net for those in need. And it restores the balance between solidarity and subsidiarity by returning a lot of power to individuals, to families and to communities. We are a nation that prides itself on looking out for one another—and government has an important role to play in that. But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.
Some Catholics seem to mistake the preferential option for the poor for a preferential option for Big Government. When you look at the results of that approach—one out of every six Americans in poverty today, many of them mired in programs whose outdated structures often act as a trap that hinders upward mobility—that’s just not consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith. We need to break down the barriers to opportunity and attack the root causes of poverty. Informed by constitutional oath and my Catholic faith, this is a moral obligation I take very seriously.
S.E. Cupp: I’ve written before about the Catholic identity crisis. Catholics voted for Obama 56 percent in 2008. In large numbers they support government-subsidized contraception. Is the pushback against your budget really just another in a long line of betrayals among Catholics of doctrinal orthodoxy?
Paul Ryan: Again, Catholics can have our differences when it comes to applying our principles to the problems of the day. I can’t speak for those who have reached different conclusions than I have on some of these questions. But what I can say is that this president’s breathtaking expansions of government power represent a threat not just to people of faith but to the sacred rights of all Americans. As Americans, we believe the Declaration of Independence had it right: The laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle us to certain rights, and among those is the right to freedom of conscience as protected by the First Amendment.
When the president decided to force religious institutions to pay for services that violate their conscience, he claimed for government the power to “balance” our inalienable, God-given rights against new “rights” invented by government. All liberty-loving Americans—not just Catholics and other people of faith— are threatened by such an unprecedented and illegitimate power grab. If government is no longer the protector of your natural rights, but the creator of new rights, then government will win and freedom will lose wherever the two collide.
S.E. Cupp: You’ve made a compelling argument before that economic decisions have moral implications... that balancing a budget, for example, is a moral obligation, and that when we’re fiscally responsible, we can be a more generous and philanthropic society. Is that message being heard?
Paul Ryan: The American people are ahead of the political class when it comes to responsible budgeting and the looming debt threat.
I’m confident people see through these empty promises and false attacks from a president that refuses to show leadership. What we’re showing with our budget is that it is not too late to restore the “American idea.” It is not too late to take those principles that made us such an exceptional nation in the first place—liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-government, government by consent of the governed—and apply them to the problems of the day so we can get back to the opportunity society that made this nation the greatest on earth.
The safety net in this country—bolstered by families, communities and government—is threatening to unravel. It is not only our stagnant economy and the debt-fueled economic crisis ahead that threatens society’s most vulnerable. We’re also seeing the displacement of a vibrant civil society by an everexpanding central government. Reforms must aim to repair our social safety net and revitalize institutions of meaning where Americans have always looked out for one another. We want the safety net to be there for people who truly cannot help themselves, and for those temporarily down on their luck so that they can get back on their feet on to lives of self-sufficiency. We want an opportunity society that promotes upward mobility with people reaching their potential and making the most of their lives. This is what our budget debates are really about at their core, yet this is not the debate the president or his party’s leaders seem willing to engage in.
S.E. Cupp: Do you draw a distinction between the tone Catholic scholars at Georgetown took with your budget and the tone of the Catholic Church writ large?
Paul Ryan: I’ve been making a serious effort to explain how the truths of Catholic social thought impact our budget, claiming neither a monopoly on the social teachings nor that persons of good faith must agree with every application of my beliefs to specific policy questions. I have invited those with different views to dialogue about the facts. Pope Benedict’s example of charitable debate with politicians, philosophers, scholars and clergy outside of the faith should inspire our own Catholic dialogue on how the Social Magisterium furthers the common good and well-being of all Americans.
S.E. Cupp: What message do you have for Catholic voters as they mull over their options in the 2012 presidential election?
Read the rest of S.E. Cupp's interview with Ryan in the June isssue of Townhall Magazine--order now!