by Randi Schmidt
Director of Economic Empowerment Policy, YWCA USA
In April of this year, my mom, already legally disabled, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Needless to say, my personal life has recently become one of calls about doctors, radiation, biopsies, tests and more tests.
Yet, while my family worries about a real life and death situation, our federal government is about to make big decisions on what is going to happen to people like my mom, the thousands of people YWCAs serve, and others who are disabled, sick, poor or down on their luck. There will be a big fight at the end of the year or beginning of next year in Congress to deal with: 1) the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts; 2) steep spending cuts to defense and other government programs; 3) our nation’s long-term debt and deficit. When I liken this fight to Armageddon, people laugh. I don’t tell them it is not a joke, but I do tell them this is why I stand with the nuns.
In June 2012, a group of Catholic nuns set off on a 15-day journey to speak out against a budget and tax plan put forth by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, often called the “Ryan Budget” for short. The plan would cut taxes for high-income earners, raise taxes on the middle class and poor, increase spending on defense, cut spending on vital programs, and pass costs onto states, seniors, the disabled, and women by changing the current structure of Medicaid, Medicare and SNAP (food stamps).
It is estimated that 62 percent of the cuts in the Ryan Budget come from safety-net programs that take services away from the working class and poor. At the same time, it would cut taxes on high-income earners.
These “Nuns on the Bus” are worried about the Ryan plan because it actually has a chance of becoming a reality. The plan passed the House of Representatives earlier this year by a vote of 228-191. This means that when the President and leaders of the Senate and House get together to work out a deal on these big issues, at least one of the three sets of participants has the Ryan Budget as the starting point for their ideal bill. And anyone who thinks the Senate and the President will flat out reject everything in the Ryan plan are kidding themselves; negotiation, real negotiation, means taking things you don’t like to get what you want. As someone who has been in Washington for years, I have seen this scenario play out – and so have the nuns. That is why the Ryan Budget is a real threat.
One of the nuns on the bus, Richelle, is a dear friend with whom I have worked for years on anti-poverty initiatives. When I asked her what she thought of the bus trip she replied, “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Nuns on the Bus tour, and see firsthand the powerful witness of Sisters who every day are living out their call to serve the most vulnerable in our society. The depth of the needs make government involvement imperative. We must expose Paul Ryan’s House-passed budget for the harm it would do, and promote public policies which address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations.”
Richelle and the other sisters know that one thing that can stop the Ryan Budget from becoming law is a collective group of people standing up and saying “no” to this set of policy choices. And contrary to what people assume, this isn’t that hard. Progressives and Tea Party activists actually share a desire to stop wasteful defense spending. Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans don’t want Congress to extend tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year. And most don’t want Congress to enact policies that leave the poor, the elderly and the disabled worse off.
Fortunately, for all of us, and especially for people like my mom, YWCA clients, and others who are disabled or in need, the nuns are putting the Ryan Budget and the whole end of the year fight on people’s radar screens. And I, for one, am grateful for what they are doing. Because for my family, the political is personal just as the personal is political. And that is why I stand with the nuns.
Randi Schmidt is the director of economic empowerment policy for YWCA USA.