October 21, 2005

What Does "Pro-Life" Mean?

Over the past week or so, I've been a busy little political advocate. I have called my senators and my congressman, I have written my congressman a letter, and I have sent letters to the editor of one local and one regional newspaper. What has me so worked up? Well, it's not something you'll have heard about in the mainstream media -- but isn't that usually the case? What has me so worked up is budget reconciliation, the process by which the budget will be worked out to offset the cost of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

I first heard about budget reconciliation in an e-mail alert from MoveOn. They e-mailed me to let me know that Congress would soon be taking up the task of budget reconciliation, and that vital programs for the nation's poor were scheduled to be put on the chopping block. These programs included:

  • Medicaid and Medicare

  • Federal Student Loans

  • Child Nutrition Programs

  • Food Stamps

  • Earned Income & Child Tax Credits

  • Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation

  • State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and TANF

  • Unemployment Insurance

The first e-mail alert from MoveOn encouraged me to call my senators and congressman to let them know that I oppose this kind of budget reconciliation, and so I did. I called each of them and let them know that I opposed this kind of budget reconciliation, but that I didn't oppose budget reconciliation in and of itself. In fact, I told them that I knew budget reconciliation was necessary in order to offset the cost of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So I proposed an alternative: roll back all of President Bush's tax cuts, and bring the troops home from Iraq. I let all three of the congressional assistants I talked to know that I thought this would go a long way in helping pay for the natural disasters that have devastated the American South. I don't think they were too receptive to these ideas, though. Even the assistant to my Democratic congressman seemed bored with what I had to say, as if she had heard it all a million times. To her credit, though, she was the only assistant who took my name and address -- in other words, she was the only assistant who cared what I had to say.

When I called my two Republican senators, each of whom have a 100% rating from National Right to Life, I was sure to add something about being pro-life into my message for them. I pointed out that it seemed hypocritical to me for politicians to call themselves pro-life simply because they oppose legal abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. I told them that I didn't think that was enough. And I asked if it was truly pro-life to deny young mothers, poor families, and the elderly crucial benefits like medical coverage, food security, income security, and educational/vocational opportunity. We want them to be born, but we don't want them to live? That seems to be the very mixed message this kind of budget reconciliation sends. We're responsible for them before they're born and at the end of their lives, but during that "in between time" they're completely on their own. Is that what we, as a society, are saying about our pro-life and family values?

That was the question I asked my two Republican senators, each of whom have a 100% rating from National Right to Life (I can't stress that enough). I eagerly await their responses, which they will deliver when they vote on future budget reconciliation proposals.

Two days later, I received another e-mail alert from MoveOn letting me know that the House of Representatives would be considering an amendment that would bump the proposed budget cuts from $35 billion in cuts for the nation's most vulnerable to a whopping $50 billion in cuts. All the while, the same budget proposal would have called for $70 billion in new tax breaks, most of which would have gone to the wealthy. I was flabbergasted. This was, of course, the exact opposite of what I had told my congressional representatives that I wanted. MoveOn was asking its members to generate 50,000 personal notes to congressmen in opposition to this amendment within 24 hours. I sent a letter to my congressman, the Democrat, and let him know that it was time for the Democrats to step up to the plate and provide the leadership that our nation needs right now -- not only by opposing the budget cuts, but by rolling back President Bush's tax cuts, a crucial element that I really must insist upon. We'll see if my congressman, who is running for governor of my state, has the nerve to provide the kind of leadership our nation needs.

Finally, today I received yet another e-mail alert from MoveOn. This one was to let me know that MoveOn had generated 30,000 phone calls and 130,000 personal letters. The result of these many phone calls and letters was that the congressional leadership decided to call off its vote, citing a sudden drop in support even among Republicans. Of course, that hasn't stopped the congressional Republicans. On the contrary, they are merely waiting until all of those people forget about this issue, and then they will take it up again. They're already planning to go ahead with these budget cuts next week. MoveOn is calling for its members to send letters to newspaper editors -- I sent two of them, one to a local newspaper, and one to a regional newspaper called Pittsburgh Catholic. In the letter sent to the latter publication, I asserted that one cannot be pro-life and support these budget cuts. I sincerely believe that's true.

If there's one thing to be said for Republican politicians, it's that they're persistent. Even though they have received at least 30,000 phone calls and 130,000 letters (and that's just from MoveOn, which is not the only organization opposing this budget reconciliation), and even though a new national poll shows that 67% of the population believes that this budget reconciliation is wrong, they persist in going ahead with it. Will the letters to the editor stop them? It's difficult to say. But the only way to stop this from going ahead, if such a thing is truly possible, is to be as persistent as they are, insistent that this budget reconciliation will not happen, and insistent that if it does happen we will see that it's reversed in 2006 and 2008. I am calling upon all Catholics today, especially those who insist they are pro-life, to stand up in opposition to this budget reconciliation plan. It's not enough to say you're pro-life; it's time to put your money where your mouth is.