By Joseph L. Conn
When House Speaker John Boehner flew to Nashville to speak to the National Religious Broadcasters a few days ago, he sounded a familiar refrain.
Lamenting that the national debt is now over $14.1 trillion, he told the TV preachers, “In other words, we’re broke. Broke, going on bankrupt…. Here we must speak the truth. Yes, this level of debt is unsustainable. It is also immoral.”
It’s a sermon theme that the Ohio congressman has sounded on more than one occasion.
Asked by Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network about federal aid to budget-strapped states, he replied, “Well, there are no more bailouts coming from Washington. We’re broke! We’re broke! We don’t have money to dish out to the states.”
When asked about Congress planning to do away with a federal low-income heating program, Boehner said, “Everything is on the table. We’re broke. Let’s be honest with ourselves.”
When asked about possible job losses due to federal cuts, Boehner said, “I don’t want anyone to lose their job, whether they’re a federal employee or not. But come on, we’re broke.”
Okay, Mr. Speaker, we get the picture. I guess we’re broke.
It’s perplexing, then, to see Boehner railroading through the House a $20 million subsidy for private religious schools in the District of Columbia. Tomorrow, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is scheduled to mark up and send to the House floor HR 471, Boehner’s plan to revive and expand the D.C. voucher program that pays for tuition at nonpublic schools.
Boehner and his crew claim they’re only trying to help poor kids get a better education, but if we’re so broke that we’re slashing every other social program, why make an exception for this one?
I’ll tell you why. This is part of a larger plan to undermine the public school system, cripple the teachers’ unions and destroy separation of church and state. It brings joy to the hearts of people like former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the folks at the Heritage Foundation, sectarian school lobbyists and TV preacher Pat Robertson!
The snarling fiscal guard dogs in the House have supposedly banned earmarks. But what is the D.C. voucher program but a special-interest earmark?
It takes the hard-earned dollars of federal taxpayers and places that cash in the collection plates of Catholic, evangelical Protestant and Muslim schools that indoctrinate children in one religious faith and discriminate in hiring on religious grounds.
If you’re the wrong religion or you’re an unwed mom or you married without clergy approval or you’re gay, Boehner wants you help pay for these religious schools – but don’t expect to get a job there. (One Catholic school fired a male teacher for spending the night at his girlfriend’s house after he had one beer too many at a cookout!)
This bill isn’t just about the District of Columbia, which some members of Congress always want to use as a lab experiment for things they could never get away with at home. This is about setting up a model voucher program that can be expanded to other states as the political situation permits.
Boehner has said as much. In announcing the bill, he asserted, “The D.C. program provides a model that I believe can work well in other communities around the nation – it should be expanded, not ended.”
It’s a model for disaster if you ask me. We should be supporting improvements to our public schools, not undercutting them. We should be honoring the separation of church and state, not slipping taxpayers’ dough to religious ministries.
If you haven’t contacted your House member about HR 471, please do so. (Contact your senators too; U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is aggressively pushing S. 206 – the same scheme – there.)