Because two of the most prominent deficit hawks are Catholic politicians (Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner), the debate about the national debt has occasioned a debate about the ethics of balancing the federal budget at the expense of those Christ instructed his followers to help (see Matthew 25: 31–46). The exchange of letters between Ryan and Archbishop Dolan, along with a recent letter to Boehner signed by several prominent Catholic scholars, has brought the church’s social teachings into the larger public discussion about what the government can and cannot afford. Budgets, we have been reminded, are moral documents: they express the priorities of a government and of the people it serves. It is therefore important that there be an open discussion about which values are guiding our collective decisions about taxes and spending. According to Catholic social thought, this discussion should be informed by the principles of subsidiarity, solidarity, and the preferential option for the poor. But there is another value, one fundamental to most religious traditions, that also needs to be asserted in this debate —the value of telling the truth. Politicians are haggling over which programs to cut or where to find new sources of revenue, but few have challenged the dubious premises behind the debt panic.
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