Debt Deal Collapse Averts Cutbacks

Could Automatic Cuts Cripple Domestic Social Programs?

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 02, 2011, issue of December 09, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Jewish community reacted with a mix of disappointment and relief when the much-hyped congressional supercommittee announced that it couldn’t reach a deal on debt reduction.

On the one hand, Jewish organizations hoped for a bipartisan plan that would address the nation’s growing debt. But on the other hand, some groups worried that the budget-cutting ideas discussed by the supercommittee could spell big trouble for the community’s social services agenda.

A so-called “grand bargain” to settle the deficit problem would have likely included the biggest cuts ever to social safety net programs and entitlements, all of which top the Jewish community’s concerns on the domestic front.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” the National Council of Jewish Women said in a statement after the November 21 announcement that the committee’s efforts had collapsed. “It is not that we were jumping up and down celebrating,” explained Sammie Moshenberg, NCJW’s Washington operations director. “But we were really nervous that the supercommittee will cut from human needs programs critically important for low-income families.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by other Jewish groups involved in advocating for social services. The specter of a debt reduction plan that would have cut heavily into Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security had many Jewish activists worried.

The Jewish community, through its federation system, depends heavily on Medicare and Medicaid to fund Jewish nursing homes and would be required to find alternative funding sources if these programs are cut. In practice, cuts to entitlements would force federations to shift funding for educational and communal programs to cover health care costs for the elderly.

Relief over tabling of plans to cut entitlement programs, however, was short-lived.

The deadlock reached by the supercommittee now requires Congress to come up with the needed $1.2 trillion in debt reduction by implementing across-the-board cuts, with only a few programs exempt.

“It is a Catch-22 for us,” said Rachel Goldberg, director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International. “We knew from the beginning that a deal [in the supercommittee] would be unappealing to everyone, but the automatic cuts are extremely unappealing, too.”

For B’nai B’rith, across-the-board cuts would mean another major cut to one of its key programs that provides housing for low-income seniors. The program, known as Section 202 Housing, is already underfunded, and with further cuts, Goldberg said, “it is hard to see how it will survive.”

Other programs that are dear to the Jewish community and would suffer from the automatic cuts include food stamps, energy assistance for the elderly and housing programs. Several Jewish groups are now focusing their effort on lobbying for the extension of unemployment benefits, scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

“We are gravely concerned about the consequences of automatic budget cuts that will slash government spending, particularly as it relates to programs that provide needed care to vulnerable populations,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy of the Jewish Federations of North America. He vowed to mount a major campaign to block the automatic cuts from taking effect.

While groups agree about the need to avoid cuts to social services, there is no consensus on how to reach this goal.

Jewish organizations on the liberal end of the spectrum, like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, alongside groups like B’nai B’rith and NCJW, stressed the need for a deal that would include cautious budget cuts with an increase in tax revenue.

“We’re not going to be able to cut our way out of this problem,” said Mark Olshan, B’nai B’rith’s associate executive vice president.

But federations, through their national umbrella organization, JFNA, chose to steer clear of the tax issue, which is viewed as politically explosive, since Republicans strongly oppose any tax hike. The federations lobbied forcefully against proposed changes that would limit tax exemption for charitable giving, but pointedly refused to take a position on increasing the tax burden as a deficit reduction measure.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.