Romney “Scaring Me to Death” on Paycheck Fairness Silence

— by David Streeter

This week, Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have provided protections for women suing employers over gender-based pay discrimination. Before the vote, Senate Democratic leaders expected Republicans to vote down the bill, so the results from the Senate floor left few surprised. However, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused — and continues to refuse — to state whether he supported or opposed the bill.

After the vote, Democratic members of Congress sharply criticized their Republican colleagues for their vote against equal pay. But Lilly Ledbetter — whose story inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — targeted Romney specifically for his silence. According to TPM:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the bill’s sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) invited Lilly Ledbetter, the face of the 2009 law, to the Capitol to make the case for the new legislation.

‘I’m telling you folks, this is a national epidemic in this country,’ Ledbetter said of unequal pay. Flanked by Reid and Mikulski, she criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for refraining from taking a stance on the bill. ‘He’s scaring me to death,’ she said. ‘We cannot let [Republicans] take away the few privileges we’re earned.’

‘Women are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore,’ said Mikulski.

More after the jump.
The Huffington Post noted that Romney and his campaign received plenty of opportunities-and time-to weigh in on the bill:

[Representative Jan] Schakowsky called it ‘perplexing’ that Romney won’t weigh in. She and other House Democrats cited numerous instances when Romney and his campaign have dodged questions on equal pay measures for women: an April 11 conference call with reporters, an interview with Diane Sawyer, five requests for comment for a story in the Washington Times.

‘It is sensible, commonsense legislation that helps right an awful wrong,’ Schakowsky said. ‘That’s why it’s so perplexing why Mitt Romney has been hiding under his desk on this issue, refusing to take a stand.’

Now that Romney is on well on his way to becoming the Republican Party’s standard bearer, will he continue to remain silent as the Republican Party continues to defend wage discrimination against women?  

Romney Little Different From Obama On Foreign Policy

— by David Streeter

Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta noted in the Los Angeles Times today that for all of his bluster and smears regarding the President’s foreign policy — including border-line “belligerent” statements — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has yet to state what exactly he would do differently from the President on a wide range of issues.

Highlights of article follow the jump.

Romney has roughed up Obama with a hawkish tone – at times bordering on belligerent. Yet for all his criticisms of the president, it has been difficult to tell exactly what Romney would do differently.

He has argued that reelecting Obama will result in Iran having a nuclear weapon – without explaining how. He has charged that Obama should have taken ‘more assertive steps’ to force out the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad – but has said he is not ‘anxious to employ military action.’ He accused Obama of tipping his hand to the Taliban by announcing a timeline for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but also accepts the 2014 timeline.

Romney’s approach could be seen in his take on the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist who in early May sought shelter at the American Embassy before leaving his country. As Americans officials negotiated over his fate, Romney suggested that the Obama administration had put Chen in danger to placate the Chinese.

He said that if reports he had heard were true, ‘this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.’

Two weeks later, when Chen arrived in New York, Romney declared himself ‘relieved’ and said the episode ‘underscores the need for the United States to forthrightly stand up for the human rights of the Chinese people.’

At no point did he elaborate on how his approach would have differed from Obama’s.

Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says he does not yet see ‘a huge difference’ between the foreign policy approaches of Obama and Romney.

‘A lot is made of Romney’s tough talk with respect to Russia and Iran and China, but even there it’s not like I see a dearth of toughness on the part of President Obama,’ Preble said….

Foreign policy is not Romney’s strength; 2008 GOP nominee John McCain defeated the former Massachusetts governor in primaries that year in part because of his international expertise. In Washington Post-ABC News poll last month, 53% of respondents said they trusted Obama to do a better job handling international affairs. Thirty-six percent picked Romney….

On Iran, Romney frequently faults Obama for waiting too long to put ‘crippling sanctions’ in place on the central bank and the petroleum industry, measures that the Obama administration agreed to late last year. But when asked what further steps Romney would take to crack down on Iran, campaign aides said they were keeping an eye on legislation working its way through Congress that would put sanctions on regime officials and that Romney’s main task would be to make sure the current sanctions are vigorously enforced.

In addition, Romney has said he would do more to support dissidents in Iran and make it clear that military action by the U.S. is a real option (something Romney charges Obama has failed to do, though the president has repeatedly said all options are on the table).

President Obama and Israel

— by David Streeter

Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Steve Simon addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference in Washington, DC. During his remarks, Simon explained just some of the actions taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Highlights after the jump.

“The U.S. Government has done more to ensure Israel’s security under the President’s leadership than under any previous Administration. From providing record-level security assistance that is saving lives, to leading vigorous diplomacy that is defending Israel at the UN, to championing sanctions against Iran, our record is rock-solid. Based on my own firsthand experience working these issues day in and day out, I can assure you that Israel’s security is at the top of the agenda of President Obama’s national security team. And as for the President himself, he said he has Israel’s back-and he meant it. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m very proud to serve in this Administration.”

Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Steve Simon addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference in Washington, DC. During his remarks, Simon explained just some of the actions taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Highlights of Simon’s remarks appear below. Click here to download this information as a pdf.

Simon said on the state of the current state of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

“For more than 60 years since Israel’s founding, during periods of war and peace, and common crisis, U.S. administrations of all stripes have worked to safeguard Israel’s security-Republican and Democrat. But I would maintain that no administration and no President has done as much as President Obama has done to promote Israel’s security. And I say this having served in every Administration but one since Ronald Reagan was in office… Thus, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly said that our security cooperation with Israel is ‘unprecedented’ … and if you have relatives or friends in southern Israel they can tell you what this has meant in practical terms in recent months….

“In a period of sweeping regional change that brings new opportunities but also new challenges and uncertainties, the United States will continue to bear Israel’s security in mind as we develop and implement our foreign policy.”

He noted that in addition to the Obama Administration $3.1 billion aid request for Israel – the largest ever-the Obama Administration has:

  • Provided substantial funding-and intends to seek more-for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has protected southern Israel from nearly 80% of the rockets fired into the country.
  • Cooperated with Israel in developing the Arrow and David’s Sling missile defense systems that are designed to stop medium and short-range missiles, respectively.
  • Laid the framework for linking Israel into a U.S. satellite system that can provide early warning about incoming missiles.
  • Committed thousands of U.S. troops to operation Austere Challenge-the largest U.S.-Israel joint military exercise ever.
  • Participated in over 200 high-level exchanges between senior American and Israeli officials in 2011.

Simon explained many of the diplomatic steps taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel:

  • Working against the Palestinians’ attempt to unilaterally declare a state.
  • Fiercely combating the campaign to delegitimize Israel.
  • Standing up for Israel’s right to self-defense-including as the only country to back Israel following the flotilla incident.
  • “Always” rejecting efforts to equate Zionism with racism.
  • Working to preserve Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.

Simon reiterated that the

Obama Administration is committed to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran

:

“We know that Israel sees the threat posed by Iran as existential. And make no mistake, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose a direct and serious threat to the security of the United States as well. This is about both allies-Israel and the United States … And that’s why our policy is not to contain Iran, but to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon….

“We believe now is the time to speak softly and carry a big stick, to let our increased pressure sink in, to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built and to engage Iran in good faith as the window for diplomacy shrinks-and it is shrinking….

“We have backed up that commitment by building an unprecedented coalition to impose the most far-reaching sanctions that Iran has ever faced. As a result, Iran finds itself increasingly isolated from the international community….

“Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States or about Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself. As the President has said, ‘we take no options off the table.'”

He specifically noted that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared to Iran’s parliament, “the West has imposed the most extensive and dastardly sanctions ever. … This is the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history.”

Some of the reasons include:

  • Iran is having serious difficulties conducting international transactions.
  • Iran cannot access 70% of its foreign currency reserves.
  • $60 billion worth of foreign projects in Iran have been cancelled or suspended.
  • Companies like Shell, Total, ENI, Statoil, Repsol, Toyota, Siemens, and Lukoil have all pulled out of Iran-as well as foreign subsidiaries of American companies such as GE, Honeywell, and Caterpillar.

Simon also spoke about the Obama Administration’s efforts regarding the pursuit of peace:

“Israel’s own leaders understand the imperative of peace. And they speak about it. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and President Peres have each called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state. … Both Israel and the Palestinians continue to believe that our involvement is important to making progress. Both Israel and the Palestinians want the United States to persevere. So as President Obama said recently … ‘we will make no apologies for continuing to pursue peace.’ And that is why from the President down, we remain deeply engaged with Israel and the Palestinians to continue to work toward a resumption of direct negotiations….

President Obama has also made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met. Period.

Simon made clear that the

United States’ policy of blacklisting Hamas as a terrorist organization “has not changed.”

DHS Secretary Napolitano Visits Israel for Strategic Talks

— by David Streeter

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited Israel this week for a number of strategic talks with high-level Israeli officials.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a press release recapping the first day of her trip:

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano … traveled to Jerusalem where she met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials to discuss security-related issues, and signed a Joint Statement on the implementation of the Global Entry trusted traveler program for Israeli citizens with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

‘This agreement is part of the United States’ strong and enduring partnership with Israel, dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of both our countries,’ said Secretary Napolitano. ‘Global Entry will expedite the customs and security process for trusted Israeli air travelers arriving in the United States, while maintaining the highest standards of security.’

Recap of the second day of the trip after the jump.
DHS said in a press release summarizing her second day in Israel:

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano … concluded her visit to Israel, delivering remarks on the Department’s collaboration with international partners to combat terrorism and facilitate trade and travel at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, and meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials to discuss security-related issues.

‘The United States remains steadfastly committed to Israel’s security.  The bonds between our two nations are unshakeable, lasting and critical to both our peoples,’ said Secretary Napolitano.

During her remarks, Secretary Napolitano underscored the importance of partnering with Israel to address shared challenges – from preventing terrorism to securing the global supply chain to preparing for and recovering from natural disasters….

Secretary Napolitano also met with Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilani to discuss cooperation and recent progress on issues related to information sharing, global supply chain security, aviation security and emergency management.

WJW Lauds Obama Administration’s Iron Dome Funding

Washington Jewish Week lauded the Obama Administration for providing supplemental funding to support Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Its editorial board wrote:

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart, that the Pentagon will seek to provide an additional $70 million for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range rocket shield. The news of the funding couldn’t come at a better time for Israel.

The United States has already infused some $205 million into the Iron Dome system, which uses small, radar-guided missiles to destroy in midair rockets and mortar shells, which have rained down on Israeli towns and cities such as Sderot and Ashkelon in recent years. The Iron Dome has been described as a ‘game changer.’ Indeed, it has intercepted some 80 percent of the rockets fired by Hamas in the month of March alone, when more than 300 armed projectiles were shot into Israel from Gaza.

While the world’s attention is focused upon the fledgling preliminary talks underway between Iran and the West … we cannot lose sight of the fact that Israel continues to be under attack by Iran’s terrorist agents, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon….

The pounding from Hamas and Hezbollah are a constant threat to innocent Israeli citizens, who have 15 seconds to find cover from an incoming rocket.

That’s why Iron Dome and U.S funding and support for the project is so important. Iron Dome brings a significant measure of security to Israel, even if the system is not 100 percent effective.

But beyond the significant economic assistance which is so essential to the Iron Dome project, there is the very clear message that the U.S. support conveys: A clear message to Iran and its co-conspirators that even while the nuclear issue is being discussed, the United States will not lose focus on the security and well being of Israel and her people. And, it’s not just words. The leader of the Western world has made clear that it is willing to put its money where its counts, under an iron dome.

We commend Secretary Panetta’s decision.

Links:

Obama Admin. to Provide Israel with $70M for Iron Dome

— by David Streeter

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hosted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon today for bilateral discussions focused on Israel’s security and Iran. Panetta announced during the meeting that the Obama Administration will be providing Israel with an addition $70 million in funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which is in addition to the $205 million previously given.

Panetta’s statement and reaction from JTA after the jump.
Panetta said in a statement:

The level of security cooperation between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. One important example of this cooperation is U.S. support for Israel’s Iron Dome short range rocket and mortar defense system.

I was pleased to inform Minister Barak that the President supports Israel’s Iron Dome system and directed me to fill the $70 million in assistance for Iron Dome that Minister Barak indicated to me Israel needs this fiscal year.

My goal is to ensure Israel has the funding it needs each year to produce these batteries that can protect its citizens. That is why going forward over the next three years, we intend to request additional funding for Iron Dome, based on an annual assessment of Israeli security requirements against an evolving threat. This is part of our rock solid commitment to Israel’s security and comes on top of approximately $3 billion in annual security assistance for Israel.

The U.S. has already provided $205 million in assistance for that system, and operational batteries have already proven effective in defending against rocket attacks on Israel earlier this year. Iron Dome has already saved the lives of Israeli citizens, and it can help prevent escalation in the future.

Minister Barak and I have been discussing additional U.S. support for Iron Dome, and in recent months our departments have been working closely to gauge Israel’s security needs and production capacity for that system.

This is assistance that, provided Congress concurs, we can move quickly, to ensure no shortage in this important system. Meanwhile, we will stay in close consultation in the years ahead to ensure we are making necessary investments in this important system.

JTA reported:

Legislation under consideration in Congress, shaped in consultation with administration officials, would deliver $680 million to Israel for the system, which earlier this year successfully intercepted rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The system was funded in part by $205 million transferred by the United States to Israel in 2011.

Barak in a statement said he ‘greatly appreciated’ the announcement, adding that ‘This additional funding for the Iron Dome system comes at a crucial time for the Israeli people.’

Barak is in Washington to discuss with Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton efforts to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon….

Israel would likely seek to shore up its defenses against attacks on its borders ahead of any conflict with Iran, as Iran would be likely to pressure surrogates in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to attack.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also praised the Obama administration for its announcement.

‘This funding will enable the Jewish state to better protect its citizens, thus preventing a wider conflict,’ AIPAC said in a statement. ‘Missile defense programs are a cornerstone of U.S.-Israel cooperative programs. The two allies work together to develop innovative technologies that advance the security of both nations.’

All People Deserve Respect


— by David Street

Yesterday, President Barack Obama joined with the sweeping majority of American Jews in supporting marriage equality for all Americans. Leading Jewish organizations including the NJDC lauded the President’s show of support.

“To put it plainly, the vast majority of American Jews are behind the President in support of marriage equality,” commented NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris. “In recent decades, many of our community’s mainstream institutions have worked to welcome and include gays and lesbians-to the point where it is now a widely accepted norm, with certain Jewish clergy routinely performing same-sex marriages. But perhaps most notably, the recent poll released by the Public Religion Research institute found that at least 81% of American Jews support marriage equality — showing that grassroots American Jewry, our communal institutions, and now the President are united on this important civil rights issue.”

A roundup of their statements appears below.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We enthusiastically welcome President Obama’s endorsement today of marriage equality for all couples. History will regard his affirmation of this core right for the LGBT community as a key moment in the advance of civil rights in America. … Civil marriage has historically connoted social acceptance and the recognition of not just a legal relationship between two individuals, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, is ‘the most important relation in life’ (Maynard v. Hill); it is ‘a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred’ (Griswold v. Connecticut). These rights are due no less to same sex couples than heterosexual ones, as the President’s comments today acknowledge….

The support of the President on this issue is particularly meaningful to us as Jews. Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, including civil marriage, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who are still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, and discriminated against because of who they are.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

We are gratified to know that President Obama has said publicly what so many of us have known for some time — that civil marriage is a basic civil right. It should not be denied to anyone.  We stand firm in our belief that civil marriage, which is not bound by halacha [Jewish law] but conveys many civil rights and privileges, should be open to all. That comes from our belief that human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image — and therefore have an inherent dignity.

Keshet, which works to “ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community” sent the tweet on the right.

More reactions after the jump.
Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, said:

Hadassah commends President Obama for taking an important step today in showing his commitment to and respect for the LGBT community. Hadassah has long supported LGBT rights, and we firmly believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans are treated equally and have equal access to the same rights. Hadassah is committed to the preservation of rights for all people and vigorously condemns discrimination of any kind. As Zionists, Hadassah members understand the dangers of bigotry.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said:

NCJW hails President Obama’s decision to express his personal support for same-sex marriage. NCJW has been a staunch supporter of marriage equality and we happily welcome the president to this fight for fundamental human rights at this important time. While setbacks such as the lamentable vote yesterday in North   Carolina are unfortunate, we firmly believe that supporters of marriage equality are on the right side of history. NCJW is proud to work with the President of the United States to ensure that gays and lesbians are protected equally under the law and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

The National Jewish Democratic Council‘s Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of NJDC’s board, staff, and membership, I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality. From working to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to ending the Federal Government’s defense of the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, this President has demonstrated an unmatched record of progress in favor of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans. I am truly proud of President Obama and know that so many others in the Jewish community share my feelings.

Bend the Arc

: A Partnership for Justice’s Alan van Capelle said:

Tonight when I go home and look at my six month old son it will be the first time I will be able to tell him that our president believes we are a family. For many Americans, this is a political issue. For millions more, it’s deeply personal.

I applaud President Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality. Today, he showed himself as a leader who is in step with a majority of Americans, and millions of people of faith all over this country who support the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, including 76 percent of American Jews.

Haaretz reported that Israeli LGBT leaders lauded the President’s statement of support:

Irit Rosenblum, founder and CEO of the organization New Family, called the move extremely important. ‘It is a huge step for the enlightened world that the strongest leader publicly recognizes the new family. In doing so, he is obviously posing a challenge to the world’s religious public. I think that this is certainly a very brave act. He is creating the necessary world balance. At a time when it seems the world is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and conservative, this is a liberal point of light.’

According to New Family, there are currently some 18,000 same-sex families living in Israel. Some 4,500 children are being raising in same-sex families, and that number has risen significantly in recent years….

Itay Pinkas, chairman of Tel Aviv’s gay community center, also joined in praising Obama, Pinkas further criticized the situation of the LGBT community in Israel. ‘The only two leaders to bring up the rights of the community in a congressional speech were Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke of the importance of equality during his inauguration speech…he is one of the heads of state most supportive of equality for all citizens.’

Jay Michaelson explained Three Reasons Obama’s Right on Gay Marriage in The Forward:

First is the ‘who.’ Obama’s support of same-sex marriage signals that he’s not going to let a noisy religious minority dictate public policy. This is important for all religious minorities, including the Jewish one, because that same group of angry fundamentalists wants to Christianize America, support the radical settler-fringe in Israel against Israel’s own best interests (as reflected by the mainstream of Israeli public opinion), and erode the separation of church and state. … If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.

Second is the ‘what.’ Obama’s statement brings him in line not just with 55% of the American public, as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, but with the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist religious people as well….

Most American Jews …  know that the two obscure and unclear verses in Leviticus may be interpreted in any number of ways. And we know that the core values of our religious and social traditions are upheld, not undermined, by interpreting them narrowly, such that they apply to virtually no LGBT people today.

Which brings me to my third point, which is the religious nature of Obama’s statement itself. What the President said today means little as a statement of public policy since it has little impact ‘on the ground.’ It means more as an expression of personal conviction and conscience. What he said was that, over time, he has seen the truth of same-sex couples: that they are as capable of commitment, love, and sanctity of opposite-sex ones; and that it is an injustice to deny the benefits of marriage to gay people. Those are religious values, expressed in a personal way. It demonstrates the growth of individual conscience: he used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, he has now come to feel a different way….

Obama’s statement is thus a model for how all of us ought to evolve on issues of values and society. We grow as human beings by a combination of humility and courage: humility in the face of what we do not know, and courage to take a stand and change our minds. If that’s not a Jewish value, I don’t know what is.

AJC Survey Confirms Obama’s Strength Among Jewish Voters

— by David Streeter

An American Jewish Committee survey released today has demonstrated yet again that Jews would overwhelmingly vote today to reelect President Barack Obama over the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney (by a 61%:28% margin)-by essentially the same margin AJC reported Jews would support Barack Obama over John McCain at this same point in 2008 (57%:30%). This once again gives the lie to the myth that the Jewish vote is shifting rightward.

Further, the AJC survey shows that the margin of how much American Jews favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney has dramatically increased from 2011 (50%:32%, an 18-point gap) to 2012 (61%:28%, a 33-point gap), using this very same poll. This illustrates that the more American Jews get to know Mitt Romney, the less they like him — and the more they see of Barack Obama’s leadership, the more they support him.

The AJC survey-like each survey before it-also asked about party identification. American Jews’ party identification in each American Jewish Committee survey going back through 2008 demonstrates that Jews remain strongly Democratic (52/19 today), with any fluctuations being within the margin of error. This yet again gives the lie to the myth of any shift in Jewish voter identification.

This month-old AJC poll tracks closely with other similar recent polls of Jewish opinion-including the PRRI Jewish Values Survey and others. All of these have shown a significant lead for President Obama over his likely Republican opponent, on par with where he was four years ago at this time — when he eventually won by a three-to-one margin among the Jewish vote.

Links

American Jews and the Buffett Rule

Strong Support for Shared Sacrifice

— by David Streeter

In recent days, President Barack Obama has spoken about the importance of implementing the Buffett rule-which would ensure shared sacrifice for all Americans by adjusting tax rates so that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share. When speaking about the Buffett rule yesterday, Obama said:

America has always been a place where anybody who’s willing to work and play by the rules can make it. A place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, it grows from the bottom; it grows outward from the heart of a vibrant middle class….

In the next few weeks, we’re going to vote on something called the Buffett Rule-very simple: If you make more than $1 million a year … what the rule says is you should pay the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do. You shouldn’t get special tax breaks. You shouldn’t be able to get special loopholes.

And if we do that, then it makes it affordable for us to be able to say for those people who make under $250,000 a year-like 98 percent of American families do-then your taxes don’t go up. And we can still make those investments in things like student loans and college and science and infrastructure and all the things that make this country great.

 

Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a poll of Jewish voters in which they found overwhelming support from American Jews for the principles embodied in the Buffett rule:

  • 73% of respondents agreed that “The economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.”
  • 81% of respondents favor “Increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year.”

This tremendous support by American Jews for the core values surrounding the Buffett rule is not surprising, given the deep support among Jews for ideals such as tikkun olam (repairing the world) and helping the needy.

On this issue of basic fairness, as with so many others, it is clear that the Democratic Party is the true political home for most American Jews.

Transcript and video of Obama’s remarks follows the jump.
April 11, 2012
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE BUFFETT RULE
Eisenhower Executive Office Building

THE PRESIDENT: It is wonderful to see you.  Lately, we’ve been talking about the fundamental choice that we face as a country.  We can settle for an economy where a shrinking number of people do very, very well and everybody else is struggling to get by, or we can build an economy where we’re rewarding hard work and responsibility — an economy where everybody has a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.

The people who have joined me here today are extremely successful.  They’ve created jobs and opportunity for thousands of Americans.  They’re rightly proud of their success.  They love the country that made their success possible, and most importantly, they want to make sure that the next generation, people coming up behind them, have the same opportunities that they had.

They understand, though, that for some time now, when compared to the middle class, they haven’t been asked to do their fair share.  And they are here because they believe there is something deeply wrong and irresponsible about that.

At a time when the share of national income flowing to the top 1 percent of people in this country has climbed to levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s, these same folks are paying taxes at one of the lowest rates in 50 years.  In fact, one in four millionaires pays a lower tax rate than millions of hardworking middle-class households.  And while many millionaires do pay their fair share, some take advantage of loopholes and shelters that let them get away with paying no income taxes whatsoever — and that’s all perfectly legal under the system that we currently have.

You’ve heard that my friend Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — because he’s the one who’s been pointing that out and saying we should fix it.  The executives who are with me here today, not just behind me but in the audience, agree with me.  They agree with Warren — they should be fixed.  They, in fact, have brought some of their own assistants to prove that same point — that it is just plain wrong that middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires.

Now, it’s not that these folks are excited about the idea of paying more taxes.  This thing I’ve always made clear.  (Laughter.)  I have yet to meet people who just love taxes.  Nobody loves paying taxes.  In a perfect world, none of us would have to pay any taxes.  We’d have no deficits to pay down.  And schools and bridges and roads and national defense and caring for our veterans would all happen magically.

We’d all have the money we need to make investments in the things that help us grow — investments, by the way, that have always been essential to the private sector’s success, as well, not just — they’re not just important in terms of the people that directly benefit from these programs, but historically, those investments that we’ve made in infrastructure, in education, in science, in technology, in transportation, that’s part of what has made us an economic superpower.

And it would be nice if we didn’t have to pay for them, but this is the real world that we live in.  We have real choices and real consequences.  Right now, we’ve got significant deficits that are going to have to be closed.  Right now, we have significant needs if we want to continue to grow this economy and compete in this 21st-century, hyper-competitive, technologically-integrated economy.  That means we can’t afford to keep spending more money on tax cuts for wealthy Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them.  And it’s time we did something about it.

Now, I want to emphasize, this is not simply an issue of redistributing wealth.  That’s what you’ll hear from those who object to a tax plan that is fair.  This is not just about fairness.  This is also about growth.  This is also about being able to make the investments we need to succeed.  And it’s about we as a country being willing to pay for those investments and closing our deficits.  That’s what this is about.

Now, next week, members of Congress are going to have a chance to vote on what we call the Buffett Rule.  And it’s simple:  If you make more money — more than $1 million a year, not if you have $1 million, but if you make more than $1 million a year, you should pay at least the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do.  If on the other hand, you make less than $250,000 a year — like 98 percent of American families do — your taxes shouldn’t go up.
That’s all there is to it.  That’s pretty sensible.  Most Americans agree with me, so do most millionaires.  One survey found that two-thirds of millionaires support this idea.  So do nearly half of all Republicans across America.

So we just need some of the Republican politicians here in Washington to get on board with where the country is.  I know that some prefer to run around using the same reflexive, false claims about wanting to raise people’s taxes.  What they won’t tell you is the truth — that I’ve cut taxes for middle-class families each year that I’ve been in office.  I’ve cut taxes for small business owners not once or twice, but 17 times.

As I said, for most of the folks in this room, taxes are lower than they’ve been, or as low as they’ve been, in 50 years.  There are others who are saying, well, this is just a gimmick.  Just taxing millionaires and billionaires, just imposing the Buffett Rule won’t do enough to close the deficit.  Well, I agree.  That’s not all we have to do to close the deficit.  But the notion that it doesn’t solve the entire problem doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it at all.

There are enough excuses for inaction in Washington.  We certainly don’t need more excuses.  I’d just point out that the Buffett Rule is something that will get us moving in the right direction towards fairness, towards economic growth.  It will help us close our deficit and it’s a lot more specific than anything that the other side has proposed so far.  And if Republicans in Congress were truly concerned with deficits and debt, then I’m assuming they wouldn’t have just proposed to spend an additional $4.6 trillion on lower tax rates, including an average tax cut of at least $150,000 for every millionaire in America.

They want to go in the opposite direction.  They want to double down on some of the inequities that already exist in the tax code.  If we’re going to keep giving somebody like me or some of the people in this room tax breaks that we don’t need and we can’t afford, then one of two things happens:  Either you’ve got to borrow more money to pay down a deeper deficit, or you’ve got to demand deeper sacrifices from the middle class, and you’ve got to cut investments that help us grow as an economy.

You’ve got to tell seniors to pay a little bit more for their Medicare.  You’ve got to tell the college student, we’re going to have to charge you higher interest rates on your student loan or you’re just going to get smaller student loans.  You’re going to have to tell that working family that’s scraping by that they’re going to have to do more because the wealthiest of Americans are doing less.

That’s not right.  The middle class has seen enough of its security erode over the past few decades that we shouldn’t let that happen.  And we’re not going to stop investing in the things that create real and lasting growth in this country just so folks like me can get an additional tax cut.  We’re not going to stop building first-class schools and making sure that they’ve got science labs in them.  We’re not going to fail to make investments in basic science and research that could cure diseases that harm people, or create the new technology that ends up creating entire jobs and industries that we haven’t seen before.  In America, prosperity has never just trickled down from a wealthy few.  Prosperity has always been built from the bottom up and from the heart of the middle class outward.  And so it’s time for Congress to stand up for the middle class and make our tax system fairer by passing this Buffett Rule.

Let me just close by saying this.  I’m not the first President to call for this idea that everybody has got to do their fair share.  Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept.  He gave a speech where he talked about a letter he had received from a wealthy executive who paid lower tax rates than his secretary, and wanted to come to Washington and tell Congress why that was wrong.  So this President gave another speech where he said it was “crazy” — that’s a quote — that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary.  That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan.

He thought that, in America, the wealthiest should pay their fair share, and he said so.  I know that position might disqualify him from the Republican primaries these days — (laughter) — but what Ronald Reagan was calling for then is the same thing that we’re calling for now:  a return to basic fairness and responsibility; everybody doing their part.  And if it will help convince folks in Congress to make the right choice, we could call it the Reagan Rule instead of the Buffett Rule.

But the choice is clear.  This vote is coming up.  I’m asking every American who agrees with me to call your member of Congress, or write them an email, tweet them.  Tell them to stop giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and aren’t asking for them.  Tell them to start asking everybody to do their fair share and play by the same rules, so that every American who’s willing to work hard has a chance at similar success, so that we’re making the investments that help this economy grow, so that we’re able to bring down our deficits in a fair and balanced and sensible way.  Tell them to pass the Buffett Rule.

I’m going to keep on making this case across the country because I believe that this rule is consistent with those principles and those values that have helped make us this remarkable place where everybody has opportunity.

Now, each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, felt responsibility not only for themselves, but also for their community and for their country.  They felt a responsibility to us, to future generations.  And now it’s our turn to be similarly responsible.  Now it’s our turn to preserve that American Dream for future generations.

So I want to thank those of you who are here with me today.  I want to thank everybody who is in the audience.  And I want to appeal to the American people:  Let’s make sure that we keep the pressure on Congress to do the right thing.
 

First-Ever Presidential Passover Video Greeting

— by Jarrod Bernstein

Starting tomorrow night, the Jewish community in the United States, Israel, and throughout the world will come together to celebrate the holiday of Passover.

President and Mrs. Obama will join them, continuing their tradition of hosting a small Seder at the White House. By now, the story of how that tradition began has been told and retold, but in the spirit of Passover, I’ll tell it again: In April of 2008, the President and his staff were on the trail in Pennsylvania in the midst of a long primary campaign. Weary from a long day of work and away from their families, a small group of staffers came together to hold an impromptu Seder. When then-Senator Obama got wind of the Seder, he gathered some other staff and friends and decided to join. At the end of the Seder, the President followed the traditional “Next year in Jerusalem” declaration with a pledge of his own – “Next year in the White House.” Each year since, he has followed through on that promise. This year, he also added a new touch, a video message to Jews everywhere wishing them Chag Sameach as they continue their own traditions or start new ones this Passover.

Transcript follows the jump.
I’d like to wish a happy holiday to all those celebrating Passover.

The story of the Exodus is thousands of years old, but it remains as relevant as ever. Throughout our history, there are those who have targeted the Jewish people for harm — a fact we were so painfully reminded of just a few weeks ago in Toulouse. Just as throughout history, there have been those who have sought to oppress others because of their faith, ethnicity or color of their skin.

But tomorrow night, Jews around the world will renew their faith that liberty will ultimately prevail over tyranny. They will give thanks for the blessings of freedom, while remembering those who are still not free. And they will ask one of our life’s most difficult questions: Once we have passed from bondage to liberty, how do we make the most of all that God has given us?

This question may never be resolved, but throughout the years, the search for answers has deepened the Jewish people’s commitment to repairing the world, and inspired American Jews to help make our union more perfect. And the story of that first Exodus has also inspired those who are not Jewish with common hopes, and a common sense of obligation.

So this is a very special tradition — and it’s one I’m proud to be taking part of tomorrow night, at the fourth annual White House Seder. Led by Jewish members of my staff, we’ll retell the story of the Exodus, listen to our youngest guest ask the four questions, and of course, look forward to a good bowl of matzo ball soup.

Michelle and I are proud to celebrate with friends here at home and around the world, including those in the State of Israel.

So on behalf of the entire Obama family, Chag Sameach.