When the incoming Congress and the Obama administration start zeroing in on complex, politically charged issues of taxation and government spending, there is a very real danger they will look for political easy ways out — which, if history is a guide, means heaping most of the burden on the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
The stakes here are enormous — for all of us as individuals, for a Jewish community where poverty is on the rise, for countless Jewish agencies that depend on government funding to provide critical services and for a nation that needs a strong economy to maintain its leadership position in the world. We don’t have answers to key questions that divide even professional economists, but we do have concerns.
We are concerned that excessive partisanship on both sides of the aisle and rigid ideologies may preclude the kinds of compromises without which we have no chance of ensuring a prosperous future for all Americans.
We are concerned about politicians who offer slogans, not realistic solutions to maddeningly complex problems — slogans about tax cuts for the wealthy that may be deepening our budget woes, slogans about maintaining every last human service spending program no matter how inefficient or unaffordable.
We are concerned about a public that wants government spending slashed, but not for their own programs, thank you very much. We are all responsible for our economic predicament; we all must be part of the solution, and that means sharing the inevitable sacrifices.
We are concerned about a budget debate that takes military spending off the table. No rational person can deny our extensive national security needs in this age of global terrorism. But weapons systems that the Pentagon doesn’t want, but which are protected by self-serving politicians, are just one example of where waste can be cut.
We don’t dispute the urgent need to regain control over our federal budget, but worry that effort could come down hardest on those with the slimmest margin of survival — the elderly, the infirm, the long-term poor and those who have been pushed below the poverty line by a brutal recession that has officially ended but whose consequences continue to be felt by millions of Americans.
As we have said before, the combination of an economic downturn that just won’t quit and mounting pressure on government spending programs also puts added responsibility on each of us to support the Jewish charities that once again will be forced to do more with less.