June 24, 2004
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20015
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am writing to express our deep concern about budget legislation that is currently on the floor of the House of Representatives, H.R. 4663, the Spending Control Act of 2004.
We have grave misgivings about amendments that may be offered to H.R. 4663 to impose a cap on entitlement programs. Programs that would be affected, depending on the amendment, include Medicaid, Medicare, earned income and child tax credits, food stamps, Pell grants, and child nutrition programs. Analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of Congressional Budget Office data on entitlement spending indicate it is possible these entitlement cap proposals could lead to insufficient funding of these programs of at least $445 billion over the next ten years. This could have devastating effects on our most vulnerable citizens, including the more than 50 million low-income family members, the elderly, and persons with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for their health care. The potential impact on Medicaid is of particular concern. While the proposals would allow spending to be adjusted by the Consumer Price Index, annual per capita health care cost increases have been outpacing CPI. CPI-based adjustments will simply be insufficient to make sure the health care needs of those who depend upon Medicaid will be met.
Similarly, imposing a requirement that all discretionary and unearned entitlement programs sunset by October 1, 2006, unless Congress affirmatively votes to reauthorize a given program, would have the effect of seriously disrupting necessary services in education and other domestic areas.
As you consider these and other amendments, as well as the underlying bill, we strongly urge you to heed the words of Conference President Bishop Wilton Gregory who, in his April 22 letter to conferees on the Budget Resolution, called on Congress to adopt budgetary policies that do not disadvantage programs that meet basic human needs. Bishop Gregory wrote:
[A] fundamental moral measure of our nations budget policy is whether it enhances or undermines the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our society. The needs of poor children and families of modest means are often overlooked. They deserve special priority as you allocate economic resources and burdens. The choices you make determine how future generations will be burdened and blessed. We strongly urge you to reject any budgetary measures that could lead to cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and the other programs that assist our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.
With every good wish I am,
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee