A response to the ‘Nuns on the Bus’ tour

By Tom Quiner

True or false: “The House budget would decimate our country.”

Nuns on a bus

The federal budget supported by the “Nuns on the Bus” tour is not sustainable.

This is the assertion of the ‘Nuns on the Bus’ tour as reported by Rekha Basu in her June 20th column, “ ‘Nuns on the Bus’ possess credibility that few of us have.”

Let’s take a closer look …

The Senate won’t go near the issue. They’ve refused to submit their own budget for three years because they fear the political backlash. So, they have no credibility on the subject through sheer cowardice.

President Obama’s budget is the single aspect of his presidency that garners bi-partisan support. Every single member of both parties rejected it. So, the president has no credibility on the subject either.  In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says his budget would decimate our country.

How so?  Debt.

The CBO says Mr. Obama’s proposed spending increases are “unsustainable.”  Even more, they warn that the president’s approach increases the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis.

The Obama approach jeopardizes our long term ability to pay for America’s social safety net.  They report that Obamacare made healthcare cost containment worse, not better.  They say mandatory federal spending on health care will increase from 5.4 percent of GDP to 10.4 percent of GDP over the next twenty-five years.

It gets even worse.  Today, the federal government’s payment on interest alone accounts for 1.4 percent of our entire economy.  Under Mr. Obama’s long-term budget, interest payments will escalate to 9.5 percent by 2037.

I could drown you in more morbid budget minutiae from the CBO. But why ruin your coffee this fine morning?

Let us simply say that if you care about the poor, the Obama budget is going to devastate them, because we simply cannot afford to sustain our safety net at current levels due to raw debt.

So, next to a busload of nuns, who has any credibility when it comes to the federal government’s budget?  I’d guess most folks would say Congressman Paul Ryan.

Mr. Ryan has come under fire from the Left because of his bold and politically brave budget that addresses our nation’s structural deficit.

Where President Obama grows our budget an average of 4.5 percent per year with excessive top-down government spending, Congressman Ryan’s budget reflects a more sustainable 3 percent growth.  And Mr. Ryan block-grants more funds to the states to fight poverty, as did former President Clinton with his successful approach to welfare reform.  Unlike Mr. Obama’s thinking, the Clinton/Ryan approach believes the needy can best be served with spending directed from the state level rather than Washington.

The big-government, top-down approach produced some unexpected and damaging consequences beginning in the 1960s, especially in the African-American community.  Children fare best when they grow up with a married mom and dad by every standard.

Back in 1960, 61 percent of black adults were married.

By 2008, that number was down to 32 percent.

In 1960, just 2 percent of black children had a parent that had never been married.

By 2008, the number was up to 41 percent.

To receive a welfare check, a poor mother had to demonstrate that she’s single, she’s not working, and has no savings.

Using this approach, family life splintered.  This is a complex issue with multiple causes, of course,  And yet the trillions of dollars we’ve spent on the social safety net has barely made a dent in the poverty rate with 46.2 million Americans still living below the poverty level today, a record number.

It’s not like we’re scrimping in our efforts to serve the needy. Ron Haskins, Co-Director of the Center on Children and Families of the left-leaning Brookings Institution, recently testified before the Senate Finance Committee.  He reports that the federal government has tripled per person spending on poverty since 1980.  When you add in what we spend at the state and local levels, taxpayers are spending about $23,700 per person living in poverty via a multitude of programs, with minimal improvement in the poverty rate.

Some programs work quite well.  Here in Iowa, for example, the state is well-served by our network of community action agencies, to name but one successful component of our safety net.  The question comes down to “how” and “how much.”

Honorable people can disagree.

Like Congressman Ryan and the nuns on the bus, I am a faithful Catholic who embraces our Church’s social justice teachings.  I honor these nuns for the good work they are doing in serving the needy.

I also honor Congressman Ryan for the courage to address the complexity of our nation’s budget with intelligence, innovative thinking, and great compassion.

He demonstrates a quality I greatly admire:  leadership.


  1. illero on June 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Great piece. I have posted on this topic myself, but not as well.

    • quinersdiner on June 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it.

  2. Richard C. Amo on August 15, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Thank you for your balanced report on this recent event. Who can argue with helping the poor? Who would ever want to oppose nuns in their good work? We must be sure though from whence it comes. Unfortunately, too often the world of politics enters in to the mix and it becomes difficult to distinguish which is which. We certainly had enough of that in Latin America. “By their fruits you shall know them” is a Monday morning realization on previous promises and aspirations. I would like to add two distinctions from a document of then Cardinal Ratzinger concerning Liberation Theology: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19840806_theology-liberation_en.html . The first is “10. But the “theologies of liberation”, which reserve credit for restoring to a place of honor the great texts of the prophets and of the Gospel in defense of the poor, go on to a disastrous confusion between the ‘poor’ of the Scripture and the ‘proletariat’ of Marx. In this way they pervert the Christian meaning of the poor, and they transform the fight for the rights of the poor into a class fight within the ideological perspective of the class struggle.” which speaks for itself. Finally, the difference between a political solution and a gospel solution is expressed in the final paragraph of this same document.: “Never ceasing to recall to her children that they have no lasting dwelling here on earth, she urges them also to contribute, each according to his own vocation and means, to the welfare of their earthly city, to promote justice, peace and brotherhood among men, to lavish their assistance on their brothers, especially on the poor and the most dispirited.” The responsibility for the support of the poor falls on each individual to give, not a government to decide and distribute that which is not theirs.

    • quinersdiner on August 15, 2012 at 9:40 am

      Insightful analysis of the flaws in “liberation theology.” Thanks for writing. Please come again.