On Monday, President Barack Obama sent Congress a $3.7 trillion budget outline that includes significant cuts to a number of human service programs. Congressional Republicans quickly countered that the cuts are insufficient to rein in a runaway deficit that is projected to hit a staggering $1.65 trillion this year.
The specifics of the budget for the next fiscal year will take months to thrash out in a divided Congress, but the initial positions and the growing realization that unrestrained deficit growth threatens America’s future prosperity guarantee that they will be severe.
That fight represents a huge political challenge for Jewish groups across the country — and many in our own metropolitan area — that rely on government money to fund a wide range of health and human service programs. Key groups such as the Jewish Federations of North America will fight hard to preserve funding streams critical to the services they provide, and that is appropriate; serving Jews in need must remain a communal priority.
But it is also important that in fighting for the programs that serve Jews we not lose sight of the need for spending priorities that address the needs of all vulnerable Americans. The welfare of our own community is in so many ways linked to the well being of our neighbors. Advocating for economic and social justice for all must remain a priority.
We are pleased Obama is seeking increases in funding for critical education and energy programs — both key ingredients in ensuring a prosperous future. Less reassuring are the administration’s proposed cuts on a range of human service programs, including the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which provides critical assistance to needy seniors and families.
Unclear at this time is whether the administration and the Republican-led House can work together to find ways to trim waste from the enormous Pentagon budget. Without significant reductions in military spending — done in ways that will not jeopardize national security — the deficit reduction effort will be political posing, not policy.
Congress must resist the temptation to decimate the foreign aid program. Aid to a range of countries, including but not limited to Israel, is vital to U.S. interests across the international arena.
There are no easy answers or quick fixes for the deficit dilemma. Any serious effort to reduce its unprecedented size will necessarily involve pain for all Americans. It is critically important that that pain not fall disproportionately on the weak, the poor and the politically powerless.