Deductions for charitable giving, tax credits for working families and vital programs that serve poor and vulnerable people in the United States and abroad must be protected in any budget deal that reduces the country's $16 trillion deficit, the chairman of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committees told Congress.In letter sent Dec. 14 to each member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the bishops also called for a "circle of protection" around programs such as poverty-focused international assistance, affordable housing and community development, education, workforce development and emergency unemployment compensation.The letter from Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, outlined their concerns as budget talks continued between Republican House leaders and the White House.No fiscal deal had been reached as of Dec. 20 as the country moved closer to a series of automatic spending cuts — known as sequestration — and the end of Bush-era tax cuts set for Jan. 1. The cuts under sequestration would affect discretionary spending on military and non-military programs alike.The bishops are among leaders of charities across a wide spectrum of services and activities who are concerned that elimination of the charitable deduction provision will cause donors to reduce contributions, a step that could be devastating to many non-profit organizations, schools and religious groups."Any deficit reduction agreement or framework for future reform must protect the refundability of low-income tax credits, the charitable deduction and the millions of people who benefit from them," the bishops wrote."It is in our nation's interest that Congress act in a bipartisan manner to replace sequestration with a balanced and thoughtful alternative that calls for shared sacrifice by all, eliminates unnecessary spending, addresses the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement program fairly and raises adequate revenues," the letter said.The bishops said some of the programs that are the focus of their concern already have seen billions of dollars of cuts. The letter specifically pointed to savings that could be achieved by "cutting nuclear weapons programs or direct agricultural subsidies.""We renew traditional principles and values that budgetary deliberations should be assessed by whether they protect of threaten human life and dignity, should prioritize the needs of 'the least of these,' and should recognize that government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all," the letter said."While people of good will may disagree on how to apply these moral principles to specific policies, we believe it is incumbent on leaders to take these applications seriously and to offer concrete alternatives that meet the moral objectives," the bishops wrote. "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties to accomplish this."—CNS—January 4, 2012To read the full texts of the letters, visit{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0104/budget/{/gallery}