New Republican Budget Guts Medicare, Social Safety Net

Today, House Republicans unveiled their new budget that — like their budget from last year — fails to address America’s budget needs responsibly or preserve vital social safety net programs.

Last year, several Jewish community organizations and leaders expressed deep concern about the Republicans’ budget proposals. The GOP’s budget this year contains similar policies that only amplify the Republican Party’s message that it does not support the programs supported by the mainstream of the American Jewish community.

Indeed, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Associate Director Mark Pelavin said:

As an affirmation of our national priorities, the budget is inherently and inescapably a moral document. We support, and have long supported, a federal budget that reflects our solemn moral obligation to guard the most vulnerable in our society. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), however, has chosen a different path. By ending the entitlement status of Medicaid and Medicare, fundamentally altering the tax system, and slashing spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and education programs, the Ryan plan would turn our backs on our obligation to care for all Americans.

More after the jump.
And JTA reported on the Jewish reaction to this year’s budget:

Jewish groups are among dozens of religious denominations and organizations endorsing a ‘Faithful Budget’ in opposition to the Republican budget proposal, which would cut Medicaid spending and disproportionately shift Medicare costs to fixed-income seniors….

‘During this time of great need in this country, it is essential that we lift our collective voices to speak to the social and ecological challenges our nation faces,’ Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. ‘The Faithful Budget begins that effort.’…

‘The proposal before the House Budget Committee would cut spending for and reduce access to SNAP and other critical human needs programs,’ Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said in a statement. ‘We should not balance the federal budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. Instead, we should be offering them support to help them get back on their feet and get our economy back on track.’

In addition, B’nai B’rith International President Allan Jacobs noted in a statement that ‘the proposals would shift costs to Medicare beneficiaries while cutting programs that make critical investments for the poorest Americans who are least able to absorb these cuts.’

‘We shouldn’t be asking those with the fewest resources to give first,’ said Jacobs.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said about the GOP’s budget plan:

The House budget once again fails the test of balance, fairness, and shared responsibility.  It would shower the wealthiest few Americans with an average tax cut of at least $150,000, while preserving taxpayer giveaways to oil companies and breaks for Wall Street hedge fund managers. What’s worse is that all of these tax breaks would be paid for by undermining Medicare and the very things we need to grow our economy and the middle class – things like education, basic research, and new sources of energy. And instead of strengthening Medicare, the House budget would end Medicare as we know it, turning the guarantee of retirement security into a voucher that will shift higher and higher costs to seniors over time.

Reuters contrasted the Republicans’ approach with the plans supported by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats:

Where Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and boost near-term spending on infrastructure and education, the Republicans want to cut taxes and spending on healthcare and social safety net programs – benefits used more by the poor and middle classes….

The Republican budget achieves much of its deficit-reduction goals through savings gained by dismantling Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law and by turning social safety net programs like food stamps and the Medicaid program for the poor into block grants for states.

The Republicans’ latest budget ends Medicare as we know it by replacing long-standing guaranteed retirement program with a voucher system that will leave future seniors to cover extra costs. Reuters noted the key difference between the Republicans’ plan and the plan supported by the President:

Future retirees would get an allowance to help them buy healthcare insurance. They would be able to choose private insurance plans or traditional Medicare, both of which would be offered on a special exchange. This is a slight change from Ryan’s proposal last year, which was met with loud criticism from Democrats and retiree groups. Outside experts estimated out-of-pocket expenses for the elderly would have risen by about $6,000 a year under Ryan’s Medicare reforms unveiled a year ago.

Obama’s budget calls for Medicare savings, but mostly by cutting payments to medical providers, not beneficiaries.

Think Progress noted that the Republicans’ budget also calls for the repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In particular, the Republicans aim to:

  • Repeal the ban on discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions
  • Repeal tax credits that prevent health care costs from ravaging an individual’s income
  • Roll back the expansion of Medicaid to those living poverty

Click here to read Think Progress’ analysis. And click here to read their list of the “Top Five Worst Things About the House GOP’s Budget.”

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer analyzed the Republican budget’s impact on the social safety net:

Over the next decade, Ryan would spend 30 percent less than the White House on ‘income security’ programs for the poor – that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would spend $4.8 trillion over this timeframe; the White House’s would spend $6.8 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 38 percent less on transportation and 24 percent less on veterans. He’d spend 20 percent less on ‘General science, space, and basic technology.’ And, compared with the White House, he’d cut ‘Education, training, employment, and social services’ by a full 44 percent.

Click here to read Plumer’s analysis of the Republican budget. Click here to learn why Plumer’s colleague Ezra Klein considers the GOP budget to be unrealistic.  

In addition, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin discovered that the budget contains cuts to the foreign aid budget-cuts that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the pro-Israel community have long opposed:

[A]pparently Ryan does not believe diplomacy and development are part of that tool kit, because his proposal would see the international affairs account slashed from $47.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to $43.1 billion in fiscal 2013, $40.1 billion in fiscal 2014, $38.3 billion in fiscal 2015, and $38.1 billion in fiscal 2016. The State Department and USAID wouldn’t see their budget get back to current levels until after 2022 if Ryan were to have his way….

‘The Ryan budget fails to recognize that diplomacy and development are essential to protecting our national security, alongside defense,’ said House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA). ‘In his own words, Chairman Ryan sets up a choice: “decline as a world power vs. renewed American leadership.” But by viewing the choice exclusively in terms of military spending, he cuts the very resources that would make strong and effective U.S. international leadership a reality. The Republican budget would take us down the road of decline as a world power.’

After examining the budget, the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post slammed the latest GOP budget. According to The Times:

As he rolled out his 2013 budget on Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, correctly said that he and his fellow Republicans were offering the country a choice of two very clear futures. The one he outlined in his plan could hardly be more bleak.

It is one where the rich pay less in taxes than the unfairly low rates they pay now, while programs for the poor – including Medicaid and food stamps – are slashed and thrown to the whims of individual states. Where older Americans no longer have a guarantee that Medicare will pay for their health needs. Where lack of health insurance is rampant, preschool is unaffordable, and environmental and financial regulation are severely weakened.

Mr. Ryan became well known last year as the face of the most extreme budget plan passed by a house of Congress in modern times. His new budget is, if anything, worse, full of bigger, emptier promises. It is largely in agreement with the plans of the Republican presidential candidates….

These extreme cuts and changes would greatly impede the nation’s economic recovery, and hurt those on the middle and lower economic rungs who suffered most from the recession. The contrast with President Obama’s budget, which raises taxes on the rich to protect vital programs while reducing the deficit, could not be more clear.

Click here to read The Times’ editorial.

Noting the criticism that has come from observers and experts alike, The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent succinctly summarized the newest GOP budget by writing:

[T]he verdict is in: Paul Ryan’s budget is a blueprint for radical right-wing economic extremism and a monumental con job.


Supreme Court Rules Against Female Wal-Mart Employees


by Mark Pelavin, Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision depriving more than one million current and former female Wal-Mart employees of their right to sue the company in a class action lawsuit. Although all nine justices agreed on a technicality about the way the class was certified, a narrow majority of five justices was willing to go even further and assert that the female employees do not have enough in common to sue as a class. We find this analysis troubling because it suggests that a large employer such as Wal-Mart can escape accountability simply because the sheer size of its workforce makes it difficult to ascertain commonality. We believe the plaintiffs presented clear evidence of a disturbing pattern of gender-based pay and promotion discrimination at Wal-Mart that should have qualified them to sue as a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

More after the jump.

We are also deeply concerned about the potential impact of the Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes ruling on the future of class action lawsuits, which are essential to addressing the many forms of discrimination that still exist in the United States-and that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was designed to eliminate. Guided by our long history of supporting civil rights for all and our strong support of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Reform Movement joined an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to allow the case to proceed as a class action lawsuit.

The full implications of today’s decision are far from clear, but one thing is certain: Women deserve equal pay for equal work, and today the Supreme Court made it harder for that to happen.

GOP Budget Cuts Off Bubbie and Zadie

— David Harris

This week, GOP House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed 2012 budget will become the basis for negotiations between Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama. Ryan’s budget effectively cuts off bubbie, zadie, and the neediest among us from the social safety net that enables America’s seniors – along with women, children, and working families – to live dignified and secure lives.

Ryan’s GOP budget contains deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital social safety net programs including food stamps, Pell grants, and housing aid. It even contains a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act – Obama’s health care reform package – which is on track to help millions of Americans receive better health care while cutting the deficit.

A budget is more than just a fiscal spreadsheet – it’s a statement of our values. And we need your help to defend our Jewish values! Take a look at what leaders from the American Jewish community have said about this GOP budget and then take action! (You can click each name to read more about Ryan’s GOP budget and its negative consequences.)

“Anyone can cut the budget by arbitrarily capping programs. The real challenge we face is to reduce the deficit without decimating help for the neediest among us, or making retirement impossible for the next generation.” – B’nai B’rith interim President Alan J. Jacobs

“If a budget is a reflection of our national priorities and morals, then we cannot ignore the reality of hungry families and high unemployment.” – Jewish Council for Public Affairs Chair Dr. Conrad Giles

“Everyone would suffer under Chairman Ryan’s proposals, but women would suffer more.” – National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) President Linda Slucker and NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman

“Ryan’s budget resolution prioritizes the wealthy over the needy, and, therefore, does not reflect the values to which we aspire as … Americans.” – Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Associate Director Mark J. Pelavin

 

JTA also reported Representative Howard Berman‘s (D-CA) reaction to the impact that Ryan’s proposed budget cuts would have on foreign aid — which could pose significant risks for Israel. Berman “said the proposal, which would slash the international affairs budget by 40 percent, sets ‘a new standard for recklessness and irresponsibility.'” Berman also dubbed the plan “a slap in the face” to military leaders, who have “long argued time and again that diplomacy and development are key pillars of U.S. national security.”

Four Questions About Our Budget Debate

Why is this year’s budget agreement different from all other budget agreements.

In the spirit of Passover, Mark Pelavin and Jonathan Backer of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism ask “Four Question” on the op/ed pages of the Forward:

  • Why during past budget debates did we succeed in reducing poverty, but this year, proposed cuts would increase poverty?
  • Why during all other budget debates did we discuss revenue and spending, but this year we discuss only spending?
  • Why during all other budget debates were programs that served low-income families exempted from spending cuts, but this year they are not?
  • Why during this budget debate do we discuss only non-defense discretionary spending?

Reform Movement Commends Senate Vote Supporting EPA

— Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Wednesday’s votes on Capitol Hill show us that it is possible to win the battle for clean air, but also how hard that battle will be.

We commend the Senate for voting against measures to prevent the EPA from doing its job of protecting the public from air pollution. At the same time, we are greatly disappointed by the House vote to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Over the 41 years since it was first enacted, the Clean Air Act has contributed to improving our air quality, saving and enhancing untold lives that would otherwise have suffered with respiratory and other pollution-related ailments such as asthma, heart and lung disease.

Despite these successes, some in Congress are determined to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouses gases under the Clean Air Act; putting polluters ahead of people. The Senate’s vote should be the start of an effort to ensure stronger energy and environmental policies – not a weakening of the laws that have been a keystone of American environmental and human health.

These attempts to undermine the Clean Air Act are an affront to the values and teachings that inspire us as Jews, chief among them the knowledge that it is our responsibility to till and tend the earth and not to exploit it. Now is the time to come together and urge, in the strongest possible terms, that Congress and the President enact and enforce effective energy and environmental policies, for ourselves and our children’s future.

Campaign Finance Reform in Arizona

“Take no gift, for the gift blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous” – Exodus 23.

— Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Tomorrow, Monday, March 28, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case McComish v. Bennett, which considers the constitutionality of the “matching fund” provisions of Arizona’s public campaign financing program.

The Union for Reform Judaism has submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case McComish v. Bennett, which considers the constitutionality of “matching fund” provisions of Arizona’s public financing program. The Reform Movement has long held that public financing is vital to limit the corrupting and distorting influence of campaign spending in our democracy. Arizona has one of the strongest public financing programs in the country, and we are proud to forcefully defend it in court.

Under Arizona law, candidates for state offices may qualify for full public financing for their campaigns if they voluntarily discontinue all private fundraising. Participating candidates who face privately financed opponents expending large sums of money are eligible for additional matching funds to ensure that they have the resources to compete. In a manner that facilitates additional speech rather than restricting the speech of others, matching funds ensure that candidates do not incur a penalty for participating in a program that promotes an electoral process unfettered by the influence of special interests.

We are inspired to support public financing by our religious texts, which warn of the corrupting influence that gifts can have on public officials.  Talmud explains a prohibition against public officials accepting gifts, saying, “as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person and no man sees himself in the wrong” (Tractate Ketubot, 105b). As our religious texts recognize, any time something of value changes hands, the potential exists for those in a position of power to see the world in a hue tinted by the gift giver. Public financing forecloses the opportunity for such distortion.

More after the jump.

McComish v. Bennett is the most high-profile case the Supreme Court has heard on campaign finance reform since the landmark 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC. In that case, the Supreme Court overturned 63 years of precedent prohibiting corporations and labor unions from spending unlimited amounts of money on campaign advertisements, a decision that affords wealthy and powerful interests a megaphone to potentially drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. McComish v. Bennett is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to reverse course and rule in favor of a law that protects the ability of all citizens to have an equal voice in our democracy. We hope the Court avails itself of that opportunity.

We are grateful for the work of Andrew Goodman, Esq. and his colleagues at Garvey Schubert Barer for serving as the Counsel of Record for the amicus brief. Their assistance and dedication were invaluable in completing the first amicus brief that the Union for Reform Judaism has ever drafted.  

House Repeals Health Reform

Mark Pelavin, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

Healthcare supporters are sending this form to Republican Congressmen (all of whom voted to repeal Health Reform) with the message: “Dear Represenative, After your vote to repeal affordable healthcare for 32 million Americans, you should practice what you preach, and cancel your own heavily subsidized federal healthcare, too. For your convenience, the form to do this is below. Thank you.”

We are deeply disappointed, though not surprised, by the outcome of yesterday’s House vote to repeal last year’s landmark health reform law.  It is simply incomprehensible that a majority of House members would advocate a complete repeal of the law that saves the government money while extending health insurance to 32 million  previously uninsured Americans, prevents insurers from kicking individuals off their coverage when they fall ill, closes the Medicare donut hole, and allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26.

Maimonides’ admonition that every community’s most important responsibility is to provide health care to its citizens continues to inspire us today.  While we are pleased that the Senate is unlikely to consider this legislation, we nonetheless call on all Members of Congress to focus on legislative priorities that reflect our nation’s commitment to life, liberty and happiness – none of which are possible without ensuring the health and well being of every citizen.

David Harris, President of the National Jewish Democratic Council:

The Affordable Care Act made dramatic improvements to our health insurance system — from expanding access to coverage, to lowering costs and preventing discrimination based on pre-existing conditions — which will benefit millions of Americans across the country. Today, the Republican-led House of Representatives took a politically-fueled step in the wrong direction by voting to repeal the legislation for which we all fought so hard. But we can’t stop the forward march of progress now.

NJDC believes that every American deserves the right to have access to quality, affordable health care. The Republicans’ repeal efforts would greatly limit that access. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, ‘Almost half of all Americans under 65 have pre-existing conditions insurance companies could use as excuses to deny coverage under Republican’ plan to repeal health care reform.’ This is an unacceptable outcome and one of the many reasons why such a large majority of American Jews refuse to stand with the Republican Party.

Reactions to Hunger-Free Kids Act

The Hunger-Free Kids Act has garnered support from the key “red furry monster demographic” but the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism had a mixed reaction.

— Mark J. Pelavin,  Associate Director, Religious Action Center

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) addresses a key need for struggling low-income families. In reauthorizing Child Nutrition Programs with $4.5 billion in new funding over ten years, this critical, albeit flawed, legislation ensures that thousands of low-income children will not go hungry during the worst economic conditions in a generation. Moreover, Congress greatly enhanced the nutritional content of these supplemental food programs, which is an important step in the ongoing effort to confront the growing problem of child obesity. We urge the President to quickly sign this essential piece of legislation into law.

Unfortunately, despite its admirable accomplishments, the legislation contains insufficient funds to ensure access to these essential programs. Additionally, Congress chose to fund the bill through a cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits-the second such cut this year. By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help. Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018. We also call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take any and all administrative steps to increase access to child nutrition programs. Food security is the foundation upon which our nation’s future prosperity is built; in a nation of plenty, no American should ever go hungry.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Injunction Long Overdue

— Mark J. Pelavin, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We welcome yesterday’s ruling by Judge Virginia Phillips barring the U.S. military from discharging crucial and qualified personnel solely because they have been identified as gay or lesbian. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” forces our service men and women to live their lives in fear, unable to be their true selves, and its abolition is long overdue. Even as Congress and the military pursue their review of the policy, Judge Phillips’s ruling makes clear that DADT is unsustainable as a policy and a detriment to our nation’s and the world’s security.
As Jews, we are taught that all people are created b’tselem Elohim, in the Divine image. All those who risk their lives to serve our country and defend America’s freedom – no matter their sexual orientation – deserve our utmost gratitude and respect. We can no longer afford to let prejudice deprive our nation of the skills and commitment of talented and patriotic men and women.