On February 14, 2012, 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:

Hill Notes on Protecting Poverty-Focused International Assistance
Backgrounder on International Assistance
While the Church recognizes the need to reduce future unsustainable deficits, budget cuts should not fall disproportionately on the poorest. Contrary to popular perception, foreign aid only accounts for 1% of federal spending and the poverty-focused aid programs that USCCB and CRS support are just over half of that amount (0.6%). The Church teaches that we have a moral obligation to help the poorest and most vulnerable at home and abroad. Congress should preserve funding for poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance. 
Backgrounder on the Holy Land
The window for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine is narrowing. The bishops have consistently advocated for a just peace that demands an end to violence, recognition and security for Israel, an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and establishment of an internationally recognized and viable Palestinian state. Congress should release the hold on critical humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians that would also help them build capacity for governance of a future state

Domestic Legislative Priorities

Hill Notes on Protecting Poor and Vulnerable People…In Budget Choices
Backgrounder on Federal Budget

Congress and President Obama continue to focus on the economic crisis and strategies to stimulate job creation, address the deficit, and improve the economy. The Fiscal Year 2013 federal budget and spending bills will be crafted in the shadow of a presidential election and increasing partisan division. Congress and the President also face the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts in January 2013 and the potential for historic reductions in spending as a result of the Budget Control Act (the August “debt deal”).On February 13, President Obama is expected to release his proposed budget for FY 2013. The Budget Control Act called for a cap on spending of $1.047 trillion–roughly the same level as 2007, a year before the recession began. As a result, there will be increased pressures to cut discretionary spending focused on poor and vulnerable people. In addition, Congress faces a February 29 deadline to extend the payroll tax cut and extend unemployment insurance benefits, which are essential in assisting jobless workers and their families.

Hill Notes on Religious Liberty and the H.H. S. Mandate
Backgrounder on Religious Liberty and the H.H.S. Mandate

On January 20, the Obama Administration issued a rule in the health care reform law that free contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs must be a part of every health plan in the nation. This sweeping mandate includes an unacceptably narrow “religious exception” that would not exempt Catholic charities, hospitals, shelters, schools, and colleges from the mandate because they serve and employ people who are not Catholic. The Church’s ministries will be forced by law (with major fines for non-compliance) to provide and pay for “services” that clearly violate Catholic teaching and conscience. Through this rule, the government has decided what is… and is not …the “religious” mission of the Church. This intrusion of the government violates the First Amendment and is an unprecedented and dangerous interference in the internal affairs of religious institutions.

Workshop Backgrounders

The following backgrounders correspond to workshops during the CSMG.

International Workshops – Backgrounders

The United States is set to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Once they are gone, questions remain as to the Afghan government’s ability to provide security and basic services and to continue development programs due to corruption, persistent attacks by insurgents and lack of capacity. Tensions are very high in U.S.-Pakistan relations following the covert operation that killed Osama bin Laden, increased drone attacks, and suspicions over ties between insurgents and Pakistani military. Pakistan has cut supply lines into Afghanistan. USCCB has called for a “responsible transition” in Afghanistan and outlined specific criteria for withdrawing U.S. military forces at the earliest opportunity, and urged that development continue to be funded through civilian channels.

The Pope’s visit to Cuba in March focuses attention on political and economic developments under President Raul Castro. Significant restrictions are placed on the Church’s freedom, but pastoral leaders are playing an important role in mediating with the Cuban government to protect human rights and foster civil society. President Obama has eased the trade and travel embargo to facilitate travel and remittances to Cuba, but some in Congress are pushing to re-impose the previous restrictions on such activities. The USCCB, along with the Church in Cuba, will work diligently to ease the embargo of Cuba by the United States, believing that engagement, rather than isolation, will advance human rights and religious freedom.Democratic Republic of the Congo
Various militia groups and other armed forces continue to cause suffering, death and destruction in eastern Congo.  Women bear the biggest burden of the suffering.  The illegal extraction of mineral resources, land disputes and ethnic rivalries fuel the violence.  Many suspect that these illegal minerals find their way into our cell phones, computers and electronics.  The Church was one of the principal organizations to monitor the recent national election and to denounce its many flaws.  The Church in the U.S. continues to urge the U.S. Government to promote justice and good governance and to build peace in the eastern region of the country.  We are also working to end illegal mining and the destruction it causes.

Extractive Industries
Extraction of natural resources can bring progress, but when exploited, can also bring social conflict, feed corruption, displace people, pollute the environment, and harm people’s health. The U.S. bishops have long explored the links between ecology and poverty, and the implications for human welfare. USCCB succeeded in having Congress pass important laws that require U.S. companies to publish what they pay to foreign governments where they extract oil, gas and other minerals. Companies must also report their sources of key minerals, so that their sale does not benefit human rights violators. USCCB continues to play an active part in advocating with the Securities and Exchange Commission to make proposed regulations as effective as possible in reducing corruption and promoting human development. 

The political and security situation in Iraq is volatile after the U.S. formally withdrew its troops in December 2011 as insurgents have increased attacks on both Iraqi forces and civilians. Caught in the turmoil, more than 2 million Iraqis are internally displaced and another 2 million are refugees in neighboring countries, a disproportionate number of them Christians. USCCB is advocating that the U.S. government work with its Iraqi counterparts to reduce violence and promote reconciliation, help rebuild, assist refugees and the displaced, and protect human rights, especially of Christians and other minorities.

Religious Freedom
Attacks on religious minorities appear to be increasing around the world. Seventy percent of the world’s population faces high or very high restrictions on religion. Christians are the religious group that suffers most from persecution because of their faith, especially in the Middle East. The Bishops’ Conference has consistently offered strong support for the religious freedom of all, with a particular focus on Christians. USCCB will continue to advocate with both Congress and the Administration that religious freedom be given clear priority in all policy discussions.

Sudan/South Sudan

Although South Sudan successfully seceded from Sudan last year, the two countries face many difficult issues, including managing oil reserves, citizenship rights in Sudan and border disputes.  Each country accuses the other of supporting rebels in its country.  Fighting in two states in Sudan is causing displacement and suffering as is ethnic violence in South Sudan.  The Church in South Sudan is playing a significant role in promoting ethnic peace and good governance. The rights of the Church and Christians in Sudan are under real threat.  The Church in the United States has accompanied the Church in Sudan and South Sudan for over a decade and must continue to support them in their efforts to build peace and prosperity in both new countries.

The Church teaches that free trade must conform to the demands of social justice and enhance the human development of all citizens. USCCB applied these criteria to help guide trade policies pertaining to the recently enacted U.S.-Colombia and U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreements.  Human rights, labor organizing provisions, protections for indigenous peoples, and constraints on drug trafficking and money laundering were adopted as conditions to passing these new trade laws. The Church’s moral criteria will continue to be applicable to future trade policies, including limiting and targeting agricultural subsidies, recognizing the importance of migration and the rights of migrant workers, as well as safeguarding the environment so as to provide for a principled use of the world’s resources.

Domestic Workshops – Backgrounders

Farm Bill
The 2012 reauthorization of the Farm bill provides an opportunity to reshape the current, broken agricultural policies to build a more just framework that better serves small and moderate-size family farms in the U.S., promotes good stewardship of the land, overcomes hunger here and abroad and helps vulnerable farmers and their families in developing countries. It also provides an opportunity to strengthen and improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamps Program), a key part of the fight against hunger in the United States, and to strengthen international food security aid programs for starving people abroad.

Tags: , , , , ,