CSMG Legislative Priorities
On February 12, 2013, Catholic Social Ministry Gathering participants will be advocating on Hill. The following Hill Notes and Backgrounders will prepare you to effectively articulate the Catholic position on the following legislative priorities:
International Legislative Priorities:
Talking Points on International Assistance
Backgrounder on Poverty-Focused International Assistance
The Church views international
assistance as an essential tool to protect human life and dignity, advance
solidarity with poorer nations, and enhance security throughout the world. Foreign aid is not simply an optional
commitment; it is a moral responsibility to assist "the least of these"
In these difficult times of high
budget deficits, the Church recognizes the need to reduce future unsustainable
deficits. The federal budget is more than just numbers; it is also a moral
document. It is a reflection of our national
priorities. Our national budget must not
be balanced by hurting the least fortunate of our brothers and sisters: the
poorest of the poor overseas and the victims of disaster and conflict. Catholic Social Teaching offers clear moral
guidance for setting our nation's budgetary priorities. We support a "Circle of Protection" for the
poorest and most vulnerable people.
Backgrounder on the Middle East
Since the advent of the "Arab Spring" in February 2010, the Middle East has undergone radical changes, shifting many countries from despotic control to weak and sometimes chaotic democratic rule and sectarian stalemate. Significant challenges and pressing decisions await the Administration in its second term.
Domestic Legislative Priorities
Talking Points on A "Circle of Protection" Around Domestic Antipoverty Programs
A Circle of Protection: A Statement on Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor
Backgrounder on the Federal Budget: Advocating a Circle of Protection
In the face of unsustainable deficits, the nation faces unavoidable choices about how to balance needs and re-sources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. These choices have consequences on people's lives. USCCB has consistently advanced a set of moral criteria for Congress and the President to use in making important budget decisions:
- Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
- A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the lives and dignity of "the least of these" (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
- Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.
Additionally, "a just framework cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly" (USCCB letter to Congress on FY 2013 budget).Backgrounder on Immigration Reform
Talking Points on Comprehensive Immigration Reform
In January 2003, the U.S. Catholic bishops outlined principles for comprehensive immigration reform in their pastoral statement, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. The bishops stated that any just immigration reform proposal should address the root causes of migration and should include the following elements:
- Broad-based legalization of the undocumented, including a path to citizenship;
- Future worker program with appropriate protections for both U.S. and foreign workers;
- Changes to the family-based immigration system to reduce waiting times for family reunification;
- Restoration of due process for immigrants;
Path to Citizenship:
- Policies which address the root causes of migration, such as economic disparities.
A legalization program with an earned path to citizenship would require undocumented workers to work for several years, take English courses, and pay a fine in order to participate in the program. Such a program would help stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population "out of the shadows," as members of their communities.Future Flow Worker Program:
A worker program to permit foreign-born workers to enter the country safely and legally would help reduce illegal immigration and the loss of life in the American desert. Any program should include workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers, and family unity.Family-based immigration reform:
It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family-based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in the family-based immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times.Restoration of due process rights:
Restore due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), particularly the elimination of three and ten year bars and the use of judicial discretion in deportation proceedings.Addressing Root Causes:
Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as wage inequities and the lack of job opportunities in sending countries, and seek long-term solutions in areas of development, debt, and trade. The antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.Enforcement:
By replacing illegal migration with legal migration, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would-be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.Special Populations:
Refugees, asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children should receive special protection. The one-year filing deadline on asylum claims should be lifted.
The following backgrounders correspond to workshops during the CSMG. Access to Health Care (Medicaid Expansion)
For decades, the bishops have consistently insisted that access to decent health care is a basic safeguard of human life and an affirmation of human dignity from conception until natural death. They have advocated that health care reform legislation should 1) ensure access to quality, affordable, life giving health care for all; 2) retain longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protects conscience rights; and 3) protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access.
In November 2009, the USCCB wrote in a letter to the U.S. Senate, "The bishops support the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for people living at 133 percent or lower of the federal poverty level. The bill does not burden states with excessive Medicaid matching rates. The affordability credits will help lower-income families purchase insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange.
Although not included in the Affordable Care Act, the USCCB continues to support policy repealing the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health benefit programs, such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Legal immigrants, who work and pay taxes, should have access to such programs if needed. Removing the ban would help ensure that legal immigrants have access to health care. (Note: States currently have the option to cover some immigrant pregnant women and children in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.) Confronting Armed Violence and Promoting Peace
The USCCB has also been a consistent advocate for peace and the prevention of gun and other forms of violence that strike at the life and dignity of persons. In 1994, recalling the words of Pope Paul VI, "if you want peace, work for justice," the U.S. bishops issued their pastoral message, Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action. In their message the bishops stated, "We have an obligation to respond. Violence -- in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world -- is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers." The USCCB was also a supporter of the Assault Weapons Ban initially passed in 1994 but which expired in 2004.
In 2000, the U.S. bishops issued their pastoral statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. In the statement the bishops called for all people to work for a culture of life and to do more to end violence in our homes and to help victims break out of patterns of abuse. In regard to gun violence prevention the bishops wrote, "We support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns."
In addition to gun violence, the U.S. bishops have also addressed domestic violence. In their 2002 statement, When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women, the bishops emphatically declared that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified and that violence, whether physical, sexual, psychological or verbal, is sinful. The bishops also acknowledged the toll domestic violence takes on men but especially children who are particularly sensitive to the impacts of such evil acts.
Tragic events such as what occurred in Newton, Connecticut and which happen daily in our homes and communities and around the word, should lead us to live out what Pope Benedict calls "our innate vocation to peace." Together we must confront the culture of violence with love and work together to promote a culture of life and peace.
Crisis in Mali
The USCCB is working with the Church in Mali to develop a policy framework to guide our advocacy. A preliminary policy framework asks the United States, in collaboration with the European Union, France and the UN, to work with Malian authorities to:
- Provide adequate development and emergency relief to Mali and to neighboring countries for refugees and displaced people in order to avert a major crisis and the resulting social unrest;
- In line with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Mali government Framework Agreement of April 6, 2012, establish and strengthen a stable, legitimate interim government that will conduct a national dialogue with civil society and religious leaders to build national unity and develop a roadmap to a return to elections and full constitutional, democratic rule;
- Support military reform that promotes full subordination to civilian leaders and a unified and disciplined force of officers and soldiers trained in their responsibility to protect the human rights of Malians in the north and south;
- Promote sustained, long term dialogue between southern leaders and northern leaders with a goal to negotiate a peaceful end to the rebellion, disarmament of northern militia, a commitment to cut links to AQIM, and reunification under an agreement granting power sharing and self-determination;
- Support engagement of religious leaders to ensure their participation in civil society rebuilding and to continue their peacebuilding and reconciliation initiatives;
- Develop a carefully balanced strategy to the crisis that addresses the threat of AQIM, and the root causes of the crisis of poor governance;
- Only consider the use of force as a last resort after all other avenues of negotiation have been exhausted and in accordance with just war criteria and limit U.S. military support to logistical and non-lethal aid;
- Preposition humanitarian relief supplies, in the event of war, to manage widespread casualties and flows of refugees to Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and internally displaced to southern Mali; and
- Work with regional leaders to curtail the drug trafficking routes and cut financing to AQIM.
The primary goals of agricultural policies should be ensuring food for all people and providing a decent life for farmers and farmworkers in this country and abroad. A key measure of every agricultural program and legislative initiative is whether it helps the most vulnerable farmers, farmworkers and their families and whether it contributes to a global food system that provides basic nutrition for all. USCCB and its partners continue to support policies and programs that encourage rural development and promote and maintain the culture and values of rural communities while fostering conservation and stewardship of creation.
Limited government resources for subsidies and other forms of support should be reduced and directed to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority-owned farms, to help them through difficult times caused by changes in global agricultural markets or weather patterns that destroy crops. Currently agricultural subsidies primarily favor a few large producers, while smaller family farms struggle to survive. Rather than simply rewarding production, which can lead to surpluses and falling prices, government resources should reward environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices. (Source: For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003) International Religious Freedom
With active USCCB support, Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 that mandated the creation of a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of State headed by an Ambassador-at-Large. Both USCIRF and the State Department produce annual reports on religious freedom. Both designate "countries of particular concern" to denote those states with more egregious violations of religious freedom. At the urging of USCCB and others, USCIRF was recently reauthorized through 2014, but at a reduced budget.
The Bishops' Conference has consistently offered strong support for the religious freedom of all and particular support and solidarity to Catholics who have experienced brutal attacks and increasing pressures. In a December 2011 letter, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Richard Pates wrote, "Our Conference of bishops is acutely aware that the Churches of the Middle East are caught in situations of conflict and violence that have put severe strains on the ancient Church presence there. … Our prayerful solidarity extends to all Christians who are persecuted throughout the world but in particular to those brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering in the region of our Lord's birth.
USCCB has written numerous letters in support of religious freedom when attacks have occurred. At times publicly and at other times privately, USCCB has appealed to the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government to exert pressure on another country's government to uphold international human rights standards, and protect the religious freedom of all its citizens, especially Christians and other minorities. USCCB does so after consulting the local Catholic bishops' conference to ensure that our actions express solidarity in helpful ways. USCCB continues to make religious freedom a high priority within policy deliberations. The bishops echo the teaching of Pope Benedict when he "identified religious freedom as the fundamental path to peace."
The Middle East
Since the advent of the "Arab Spring" in February 2010, the Middle East
has undergone radical changes, shifting many countries from despotic
control to weak and sometimes chaotic democratic rule and sectarian
stalemate. Significant challenges and pressing decisions await the
Administration in its second term.
Resources: Promote Health, Reduce Violent Conflict, Ensure Development
USCCB urges the U.S. government to:″
- Support the ability of governments to manage extractive revenues in ways that reduce corruption and promote human development in areas such as education and health;
- Provide development assistance so that governments and civil society in poor countries can promote human rights, democracy, and transparent, responsive government; and
- Put in place social and environmental standards that ensure respect for communities, workers, human rights, health and the environment, and that promote availability of information on extractive projects.
USCCB urges extractive industry companies to:
- Fully respect human rights and the environment;
- Collaboratively engage with communities where extractive projects are implemented to assure that information is freely available and local communities are involved in decisions that affect them; and
- Continue to examine their policies and practices in determining the source of these minerals for transparency so that in sourcing minerals and precious stones, they safeguard human rights, human dignity, and the environment.
USCCB invites U.S. Catholics to:
- Respond to action alerts and other invitations for engagement to help support policies promoting resource use that contribute to human development, promote human rights, protect health and reduce conflict.
Predatory Banking and Payday Lending
- Be thoughtful consumers by: reducing, reusing and recycling to lessen the need for extraction of natural resources; writing to companies and asking them to a) produce "conflict free" and environmentally friendly goods; and b) fully implement the new laws on transparency in payments to governments and sourcing of conflict minerals; and purchasing diamonds, jewelry, electronics, and other articles that are certified "conflict free" and made with "clean" materials that were mined with respect for the environment and human rights.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, as the domestic antipoverty program of the Catholic Bishops of the United States, funds organizations throughout the country that fight for consumer financial protections as well as develop alternative sources of credit. Currently, CCHD funds numerous credit unions and other Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that give out hundreds of thousands of dollars in small business loans and personal credit for car purchases, first time home buyers, or other uses.
Advocates are urged to work with state Catholic Conferences and state officials to address unfair and unjust lending laws and regulations.Protecting the Rights of Workers in a Globalized Economy
USCCB does not take positions for or against complex trade agreements, but does offer ethical criteria to help guide policies on trade. USCCB criteria on trade include:
- Trade agreements should treat labor and environmental concerns as integral to trade agreements and not as peripheral matters.
- Trade agreements should lead to economic and social improvements at home and abroad, particularly for poor and vulnerable workers and their families; this can be accomplished by adopting internationally agreed upon labor standards and by ensuring there is a safety net in sectors that would be affected by the agreements.
- Trade agreements should foster the right to organize and bargain collectively.
- Trade agreements should encourage and not undermine the ability of poor countries to promote environmental protection and sustainable agricultural practices.
- The impact of trade on migration should be concretely addressed when trade measures are considered.
USCCB has consistently and strongly opposed torture in a series of letters to Congress and the Administration, in public statements, op-eds, and in study guides produced in collaboration with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. In their 2007 statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops declared that because torture assaults the dignity of human life, it is "intrinsically evil," one of very few actions to be so labeled. USCCB advocated vigorously for a Presidential Executive Order banning torture and President Obama did so two days after taking office in 2009. The bishops continue to speak out against expansion of "enhanced" interrogation techniques and to call for the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report on CIA interrogation practices so that the public becomes aware of past practices, and of the illegality and ineffectiveness of torture. Public scrutiny would help ensure that our government does not engage in torture again.