Government shutdown, Day 7: Can we all agree that this mess needs to end?
Welcome to week two of the U.S. government shutdown, and with each passing day a resolution seems both more dire and less likely. But as politicians continue their usual partisan bickering in Washington, at least Catholics and other faith leaders have been taking a stand to call for an end to the ongoing gridlock.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to the House of Representatives last week on the eve of the shutdown emphasizing the "moral and human dimensions" of the budget debate and calling on the government to do its job of protecting the poor and vulnerable, promoting human life and dignity, and advancing the common good. In the last week, it seems the government has done anything but fulfill those duties.
The poor and vulnerable who already rely on government assistance to stay afloat are being hit hard by the shutdown. The ill are being turned away--an estimated 200 patients a week--from clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. Forbes reports that nearly 9 million mothers and children who rely on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to feed their babies and toddlers could lose their benefits when state funds run out now that federal grants have ceased. And that's not even mentioning all the federal employees who are going without a paycheck while the shutdown drags on. (At least they can eventually look forward to backpay once the government reopens.)
These kinds of consequences felt by the most vulnerable Americans have riled up a lot of Christians. A group of 60 prominent religious leaders, academics, and other notable people of faith--including several well-known Catholic names--released a joint statement last week decrying Congress for their shameful neglect of those hurt most by the shutdown. "We especially challenge those Members of Congress who call themselves pro-life to cease their political posturing on Capitol Hill,” they wrote. “There is nothing ‘pro-life’ or Christian about taking food away from pregnant women and babies. It is hypocritical and shameful for those who tout their commitment to family values to show such callous indifference.”
Kristen Day, executive director of the Democrats for Life of America, echoed their sentiments in a statement released today, placing the blame squarely on the House of Representatives for forcing a shutdown because of the Republicans' opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "It is irresponsible for members of Congress to put the health of mothers and children at risk in this way," said Day. "It is unconscionable for pro-life members of Congress to do so.”
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good also joined the fray, starting a petition calling for Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, to follow the teachings of his church and work to end the shutdown immediately. It didn't take long for the petition to top 1,500 signatures. Even the Senate's own chaplain, Barry C. Black, has been giving them a serious guilt trip in his daily invocations during the shutdown.
It seems pretty clear that the faith community is not willing to stand for the government's shenanigans. It doesn't really matter which side you are on politically, or which party you think is to blame. What matters is that this political fight is hurting too many innocent people, and our elected officials owe it to the American people to work together to find a solution.
As Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, puts it: “It’s time for extreme factions in Congress to stop this reckless behavior, grow up and demonstrate real leadership. There is no justification for playing politics in Washington when struggling families, pregnant women and seniors are getting hurt.”