Yes. Catholic social teaching is rife with instructions to show preference for the needs of the disadvantaged and poor. Of course, that’s what Jesus did.
So it’s good for us to be critical of our politicians (especially the Catholic ones) in their public policy. They are morally obligated to do and support certain things. However, too often people twist Catholic social teaching for their own political or ideological abuse and justification.
This has been done recently to demagogue any politician who is trying to make cuts to federal spending (a moral thing to do). And opponents take a particular cut out of context and accuse somebody of not “preferencing” the poor in the process. Such accusers are often either victims or players in a political game.
Even if we were to cut a trillion dollars right now (far more than any plausible plan being debated right now) from our $3.5 Trillion dollar budget in 2010, we’d still be spending more money than we have (so it would still be irresponsible spending). And we’d only be going back to a budget like we had in 2005 (6 years ago!). And did that budget show preference for the poor? Let’s take a look:
It spent ~$2.4 trillion dollars total. Let’s remove the interest on the debt, general gov function and protection (~10%). Out of what remains, about 74% was spent on the poor, elderly, retired gov workers, sick and the disadvantaged. The rest was spent on defense (which also preferences the poor who are among the most defenseless). Of course the other side of the budget coin is revenue (taxation). In 2005, the poorest 50% of Americans paid almost zero income taxes. The top 1% paid about 33%.
There is no way anyone in clear conscience and right mind can argue that such policy does not “preference the needs of the poor” and the disadvantaged. And this is with budget cuts far greater than those being proposed today. So don’t fall for the political propaganda that cutting spending right now (or even cutting taxes) is not reconcilable with Catholic social teaching. You shouldn’t analyze a spending cut out of context (the way the media like to). You must do so within the context of the overall budget and scenario.
It’s like if a man gave 1.1 million dollars last year to the poor, and then this year he only gave 1.0 million, and then saying that he’s not “preferencing the needs of the poor.” Should the headlines read, “Man takes $100,000 from the poor”? Or should it read, “Man continues to be generous and preferential to the poor”? We can debate how preferential we should be or where such a preference begins to diminish other rights and other moral considerations or obligations. But to say it isn’t “preferential to the poor” or any other such nonsense is simply not true.
Additionally, what is best for the poor and disadvantaged is far more complicated than simply how much money or free stuff we hand out to them. And we have to be careful not to isolate one particular aspect of Catholic social teaching from the rest of it. It must all be weighed together while recognizing that some parts of it weigh more than others.
Politicians also have a moral obligation to protect us (including and especially the poor) from other dangers and to preserve our other natural rights – such as the rights of all human life, respect for private property (and therefore freedom from excessive taxation), a stable currency (i.e. not over-spending), subsidiarity and the dangers of excessive government and many others. We must account for all of it in our public policy. Many seem to conveniently forget this when the temptation of political opportunism wields it’s ugly head.