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Catholic Right Rushes to Defend the Ayn Rand Federal Budget Plan

The GOP has been taking a beating of late over their budget plan to effectively end Medicare as we know it.  But Catholic Right operatives Deal Hudson and Robert Sirico quickly mobilized to provide some holy help.

For his part, Deal Hudson delegated the task to Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute, to pen a defense of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budgetary intentions at his new site, Catholic Advocate. Turner insisted that “Medicare Must Be Changed to Survive,” but nevertheless tried to downplay a key feature of the proposed change:  the use of vouchers in Ryan’s plan:

Ryan says that the outcry against his reform plan is “not just overheated – it is flat-out false.  Our budget – ‘The Path to Prosperity’ – strengthens the safety net by directing more assistance to those who need it most… Most important, it prevents the kind of debt-fueled economic crisis that would hit the poor the hardest.”

Under his plan, beginning in 2022, beneficiaries are guaranteed a choice among Medicare-approved private health options in a program like members of Congress have today and that one fourth of Medicare beneficiaries have voluntarily chosen – Medicare Advantage.

But Turner omits a critical difference between Ryan’s plan and the current Medicare format: Medicare Parts A and B, the standard government direct payment system, still now exists for those who don’t find a suitable private option.  Ryan and his defenders don’t tell us if they believe those private options will as generous if there is no government competition and less regulation.

This past April the Democracy in America column in The Economist magazine addressed the matter of vouchers.

But there is one thing about it that’s fairly clear, regardless of what’s in the details Mr Ryan will announce today:  Mr. Ryan’s plan ends the guarantee that all American seniors will have health insurance.  The Medicare system we’ve had in place for the past 45 years promises that once you reach 65, you will be covered by a government-financed health-insurance plan.  Mr. Ryan’s plan promises that once you reach 65, you will receive a voucher for an amount that he thinks ought to be enough for individuals to purchase a private health-insurance plan.  (Mr. Ryan insists that his plan doesn’t entail a “voucher”, but there is no meaningful distinction between getting a voucher with which to pay for insurance, and having the government send a payment to the insurer you choose.)  If that voucher isn’t worth enough for some particular senior to buy insurance, and that particular senior isn’t wealthy enough to top off the coverage, or is a bit forgetful and neglects to purchase insurance, there’s no guarantee that that person will be insured. It’s up to you; you carry the risk.

Mr. Ryan thinks this is a good thing, because individuals who are responsible for paying for their own health insurance will be strongly motivated to seek better insurance at a lower price.  I think this is a terrible thing, because the mechanism Mr. Ryan is using to incentivize people to seek better coverage for the price is to expose them to the risk that they will suffer from disease for which their insurance doesn’t cover them.

Soon afterward, Rev. Robert Sirico of the economically libertarian Acton Institute sought to rehabilitate Ryan’s dubious arbiter of capitalist morality, Ayn Rand.

In an essay titled Who Really Was John Galt, Anyway?, Sirico tried to take some of the controversy out of the Ryan’s praise of Rand by attempting to place her within the Catholic tradition she despised.  He claimed that Rand “saw herself operating within the Natural Law Tradition” and had a “…hunger for truth.”

But just when you think Sirico’s argument couldn’t get any thinner, he claims Ryan is a victim of a smear campaign “reminiscent of McCarthyism.”

But it is unwise and unnecessary to merely dismiss out of hand Rand’s ideas or the impact of her writings.  It is especially off-putting to see the left employ images of her to tar and feather political opponents in a dishonest way very much reminiscent of the McCarthyism they so frequently denounce.  They do not argue with Mr. Ryan-for their own ulterior motives, they merely associate him with an admittedly flawed and mean woman, and think they have done society a service.

Of course this is a strawman argument.  Ryan was not associated with Rand and no one has said he was.  Rather Ryan himself has said that he agreed with her ideas, in particular her “morality.”  That’s why Catholic writer Sean Michael Winters was spot-on when he tagged  Ryan’s plan as an “Ayn Rand Budget.”

To try to present the Ryan budget as conforming to Catholic Social teaching by misrepresenting the budget’s contents and selecting a few quotes from a single papal encyclical just doesn’t pass our test.

Perhaps what is most disturbing for us faith leaders is the cynical way in which those who have created this budget, and those who have come to town today to endorse it are trying to wrap it in the language of faith.  This is no faith-based budget.  This is the Ayn Rand budget. Let’s call it what it is.  We have been watching conservative political leaders, and pundits all touting their love for Ayn Rand over the past year.  This budget is completely faithful to her ethical vision, and what is that:

Ayn Rand says:  “I don’t approve of religion.”

Ayn Rand says:  “I have no faith at all.”

Ayn Rand says:  “I am against God.”

Ayn Rand says:   “Love only those who deserve it.”

Ayn Rand says:   “There is no reason I should be my brother’s keeper.”

Ayn Rand says:   “I promote an ethic of selfishness.”

But it is important to underscore that the Ryan budget is contrary to Catholic teaching not because Ayn Rand was an atheist. If anything, Rand’s virulent strain of neo-atheism also denigrates the character of most non-believers.  Ryan is out-of-step with Magisterium because Rand’s philosophy is unjust. For all Rand’s supposed reliance in Aristotelian ethics, she conveniently ignores his teachings on distributive justice.

Randian morality relies upon a belief that “creators” who pursue money are the only people who pursue excellence. It excludes the likes of  Jonas Salk, Mohandas Gandhi and Vince Lombardi — all of whom pursued excellence in ways that were not primarily focused upon making a buck.  Replacing the cross with the dollar sign, Rand’s definition of love is limited to the self, and forsakes any notion of common effort let alone the common good.

This is why Paul Ryan’s budget plan is at odds with Catholic principles: He too has replaced the cross with the dollar sign.