CORRECTION: The print version of this story incorrectly stated that several organizations signed on to the letter supporting a minimum-wage increase. The groups in question do support an increase, but did not sign the letter.
Washington - With the 110th Congress taking up the matters of raising the minimum wage and funding for stem-cell research during its first week, Jewish groups are optimistic about promoting their domestic agenda and about reaching their legislative goals.
The so-called “First 100 Hours” agenda set by the new speaker of the house, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, includes issues that have been of concern to the Jewish community for several years but were at a standstill when Republicans held the majority. Now the Jewish groups are re-energizing their advocacy efforts, sensing a potential breakthrough on a wide range of social issues.
The Reform movement took to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for an intense day of lobbying, focusing on a minimum-wage hike and on stem-cell funding.
The movement’s lobbying effort was backed by a letter signed by 450 rabbis and rabbinical students, representing the entire Jewish denominational spectrum, who support the increase of the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15. The letter, organized in conjunction with the Jewish Funds for Justice and sent to all members of Congress, quotes the 12th-century Jewish scholar Maimonides, who said that “the highest level of tzedakah is reached when we help someone stand on their own two feet.”
In addition, several Jewish organizations support a minimum-wage increase, including the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith and the National Council of Jewish Women, as well as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy coordinating organization that includes the major synagogue movements, several national organizations and more than 100 communities nationwide.
Despite the newfound hope for progress on their domestic agenda, representatives of Jewish groups stressed their dedication to working with lawmakers in both parties. Still, in a possible sign of the shifting political tide and pecking order, the Reform movement’s top official in Washington, Rabbi David Saperstein, was invited by Pelosi to speak last week at her first inaugural event.
A Democratic source said this week that on domestic issues Jewish groups are seen as natural partners since they share the same social concerns. “After all, that is why most Jews vote for Democrats,” the source said.
The Orthodox Union and United Jewish Communities, the national arm of the network of Jewish charitable federations, are sitting out the minimum-wage debate.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.