Few Jewish responses to Obama health care speech

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

A handful of Jewish groups responded positively to last night’s presidential address on health care reform, and many White House observers said it was an oratorical triumph.


But getting real reform through Congress in the next few months is going to take more than good speeches; what the last few months have demonstrated is that sustained, effective, tough and detail-oriented leadership from the White House is the only thing that will overcome the din of those claiming any major change is the first step down the road to socialism.


And the speech is unlikely to tamp down the misinformation and outright distortions that opponents have effectively used  to whip up opposition to any significant reform.


B’nai B’rith International, which is not known for outspokenness on controversial issues, issued the strongest statement, saying that  Obama “took a major step toward advancing healthcare reform” with his dramatic Wednesday night speech to Congress.


The group noted that the current health care system, “with  47 million Americans uninsured, millions underinsured (leaving them one medical catastrophe from bankruptcy), and most with insurance tied to their jobs in an unstable job market, has some very real problems. Without reforms, these problems will continue to threaten the physical health of far too many, and the economic health of the nation.”


And the group was pleased that Obama directly addressed the distortions some opponents have used to stir up popular opposition.


“The most effective anti-healthcare reform scare tactics have been directed at senior citizens, who would actually benefit from proposed improvements to Medicare,” said  Mark Olshan, B’nai B’rith International associate executive vice president. “The plans being discussed by the president and Congress would strengthen Medicare financially and eliminate notorious gaps like the ‘donut hole.’”


The United Jewish Communities (UJC) was more circumspect, praising specific elements of the speech but leaving alone the issue of scare tactics.


“We applaud President Obama for addressing a joint session of Congress and the American people tonight to clarify his health care goals,” said public policy director William Daroff, according to JTA. “We join the President and ask Congress to engage in a full and fair debate on how to move forward.  UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America continues its call for any enacted proposal to include a needed long-term care option and protection of vital Medicaid and Medicare funds that help the most vulnerable among us.  We are also diligently working to ensure the plan does not include a disincentive to charitable giving.  We look forward to continuing our conversations with Congressional and administrative officials engaged in this debate and share with them our priorities as their work progresses.”


Interesting. But for a community whose alphabet soup of agencies have traditionally been at the forefront of countless domestic debates, it’s not much.  Where were the other groups that have been peripherally involved in the health care debate?


Meanwhile, a leading Jewish Republican…er, Democrat (it’s hard to keep that straight) is calling for action against Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who interrupted the Obama speech with a cry of “you lie”  in response to the president’s repudiation of claims the Democratic plans will provide health coverage to illegal immigrants.


That  breach of congressional decorum that pretty much sums up the tone the health care debate has taken on in recent weeks, which led  Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) to say this to his Twitter followers (Tweetees?) :  “There ought to be a reprimand or censure of Rep. Joe Wilson to discourage that kind of conduct in the future.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.