High Stakes in Budget Battle
Jewish groups are focusing on preserving funding for a handful of key programs as congressional appropriators get serious about hammering out a budget for the next fiscal year without ruffling the feathers of too many voters.
Late last week the House passed a $2.9 trillion Democratic budget outline that increases both military and domestic spending, but still predicts a budget surplus by 2012. The Senate has passed a similar proposal.
A broad coalition of groups are insisting that Congress not cut the beleaguered Social Services Block Grant and Community Services Block Grant programs, Food Stamps, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Those programs, according to a letter to Congress signed by a long list of Jewish groups, are
“critical to the elderly, refugees, children and persons with disabilities.”
William Daroff, vice president for public policy of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), said his group is also fighting $10 billion in cuts to Medicare home health care providers contained in the Bush administration budget proposal and cuts in skilled nursing reimbursements that would have “a devastating impact on Jewish aging facilities across the country.”
At the same time, few Jewish groups are wading into the fray over broader policy debates that will determine whether there is enough money in the federal budget to pay for maintaining those programs.
That includes the fight over extending recent tax cuts and the Democratic proposal for “pay-go” budgeting, which requires cuts to offset any spending increases.
“It’s an exceedingly difficult job for the Democrats — trying to support the domestic priorities they’ve outlined, but also being committed to pay-as-you-go rules,” said Hadar Susskind, Washington director for the Jewish Council for Pubic Affairs. “There needs to be an understanding among advocacy groups that we won’t get everything we want.”
Jewish groups are zeroing in only on key programs, not on what could be a seismic shift in budget policies.
But the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has said publicly what many Jewish leaders believe privately: recent tax cuts have created a situation in which big program cuts will be difficult to avoid.
“Tax cuts are draining federal funding,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the group’s Washington director. “But the good news is that while we’d like to see more money available for human service spending, this budget includes a lot more than previous ones.”
The UJC’s William Daroff pointed to another thing missing from the current budget debate.
“The real question is the extent to which the budget process did not address in any meaningful way the coming avalanche of baby boomers as they edge toward retirement,” he said. “This is a bipartisan failing, a bicameral failing and a failing at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The implications for an already-overburdened Jewish social service network are huge, he said.
Now that the House and Senate have passed their broad budget outlines, the hard work of hammering out appropriations bills and working with a White House that has very different budget priorities begins.
Jewish GOP Leader Appointment Axed
A top Jewish Republican won’t be getting a plum ambassadorial post after all.
Last week the White House withdrew the nomination of Sam Fox, a St. Louis businessman and a longtime leader of the Republican Jewish Coalition, as ambassador to Belgium. The reason: mounting Democratic opposition to the nomination because of Fox’s $50,000 contribution to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that claimed in ads that Sen. John Kerry, running against President Bush in 2004, had exaggerated his Vietnam War record.
That campaign may have helped ensure Kerry’s defeat, but to many critics and most Democrats it represented a new low-water mark in the partisan wars.
The White House yanked the nomination just before a scheduled vote by the Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry is a senior member of that panel.
As the Senate debate over the nomination neared, a group of Kerry’s former Vietnam comrades wrote to members of the Committee saying that “those who finance smears and lies of combat veterans don’t deserve to represent America on the world stage.”
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said he would oppose Fox’s confirmation
“U.S. ambassadors need to be both responsible and credible, and Mr. Fox’s support for an organization known to have spread falsehoods illustrates neither,” Dodd said in a statement.
White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that “the President believes that Mr. Fox is qualified to serve as ambassador to Belgium. He has a proven record of leadership and a strong willingness to serve our country. He has a long list of accomplishments, including … being named the St. Louis Citizen of the Year.” Perino blamed the failed nomination on “partisan politics,” and said that Bush did not know about the controversial contribution to the political hit group.
RJC Courting Lieberman?
The Republican Jewish Coalition may have lost on the Fox nomination, but it thinks it can win a battle with vastly higher stakes: the fight for
the allegiance of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the Democrat turned independent who, more and more, seems to side with the Republicans.
During the Senate debate over amendments to an emergency spending bill calling for U.S. troops to be pulled out of Iraq in a year, Lieberman pleaded with Democrats to support administration policy.
“We cannot redeploy from our moral responsibility to the Iraqis,” he said during floor debate. “It is contrary to our traditions; it is contrary to our values; and it is contrary to our interests. And yet that is precisely what this Congress will be calling for, if we order our troops to withdraw.”
Now the RJC is heaping praise on the Connecticut lawmaker.
In ads running in Jewish newspapers, the partisan group will cite comments Lieberman made at the recent AIPAC policy conference.
The Republican group insists it just wants to reward an independent lawmaker for taking a stand.
“Principle is more important than partisan politics when it comes to waging the war on terror,” said RJC Executive Director Matthew Brooks. “Our national security should not be a political football. We appreciate Senator Lieberman speaking out so eloquently against those who wish to undermine this effort and weaken our national resolve.”
That doesn’t impress Jewish Democrats.
Ira Forman, director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), said that Lieberman’s ardent support for the war goes against public opinion in general — and a Jewish community that is overwhelmingly opposed to administration policy.
“And the RJC’s preaching to our community about the ills of partisan politics is like Mae West preaching the virtues of chastity,” he said.
Some observers say the RJC ads are intended both to embarrass the Democrats and goad Lieberman to do what has been rumored for months: make the jump to the Republican side of the aisle, ending Democratic control of the Senate.
But many political observers say Lieberman is unlikely to swallow the bait.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said Lieberman would be “foolish” to switch parties.
“He is in the catbird’s seat as the swing vote on many measures in the Senate,” Sabato said.
“Absolutely everyone in both parties has to treat him well. If he switches, he inflames the other 50 Democrats and he becomes a target of constant abuse by Democratic partisans from coast to coast—far more than he already is.”
And a party switch could make Lieberman more vulnerable in 2012 as Connecticut shifts even more into the Democratic column, Sabato said.
New Campus Initiative: Responsibilities, Not Just Freedom
In response to continuing complaints from Jewish students about intimidation and bias at colleges
across the country, the Israel On Campus Coalition last week issued a report arguing that academic freedom must be balanced by a “responsibilities-based approach to ensuring the rights of all campus constituents.”
The report argues that the current intellectual framework for discussing controversial topics on campus “is not effective” because it focuses only on academic freedom and avoiding legal repercussions for not granting it to all.
“A campus that places either academic freedom or legal compliance above all other concerns gives short shirt to its self-imposed values,” the report argues.
Instead, students, faculty and administration must all recognize that “the way to ensure their rights is to accept accompanying responsibilities,” according to the report.
The report calls for the creation of “local academic freedom task forces” and for the creation of “clear, workable guidelines for filing grievances.”
And the report tries to carve out a role for “off campus constituencies”– such as pro-Israel groups that want to offset the influence of an active pro-Palestinian presence.
David Harris, the ICC director, called the report a “tool box to help fashion an academic space that is as free of bias as possible, but that allows the discussion of a number of controversial, highly charged issues. Israel is only one of them.”
He said the document will be “shared with every university president in America, with our Jewish community partners and with other academic stakeholders.”
He said he hopes it will serve as a “stepping off point for starting discussions at academic conferences and elsewhere; it’s meant to raise the conversation up a notch or two in academia.” n