In this April 13, 2011 photo, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Yesterday, at a House Budget Committee hearing entitled “War on Poverty: A Progress Report,” Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee used her allotted time to try to discredit the sole Democratic witness, Sister Simone Campbell. Sister Simone is the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, but she is more widely known as the leader of the Nuns on the Bus.
“You said you come to this hearing today as a Catholic sister living under Christian tradition,” said Representative Blackburn. “Would it be fair for this Committee to question the validity of your testimony, knowing that the Vatican has reprimanded the Leadership Conference on the Women Religious and singled out your organization for only promoting issues of social justice, and being silent on the right to life from conception to natural death?”
Sister Simone replied that the exchange with the Vatican was about “theological struggles, not about our engagement in political activity, and our organization works on economic issues.”
Republican Chairman Paul Ryan seemingly admonished Representative Blackburn, albeit indirectly, telling Sister Simone, “Speaking as a Catholic who usually disagrees with you on some of these issues, I think you are very well within Catholic social teachings to give the testimony that you gave here today.”
It was one of many bizarre moments during a hearing that Washington Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott described perfectly to his Republican colleagues when he said, “This hearing is surreal.… You are not living in the real world.”
Indeed, one of the three Republican witnesses—University of Maryland professor Doug Besharov, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Social and Individual Responsibility Project—was there to discuss incentives to help people get out of poverty. So it was surprising that he was unsure what the current federal minimum wage pays.
“The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, correct?” said New York Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, trying to pivot to a discussion about good jobs as the best anti-poverty program.
“Uh, it could be,” said Besharov. “I—I don’t know the exact number. It’s around there.”