Good news for Jewish groups on the domestic front: Hate crimes, immigration reform, budget

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

It’s been a good week for Jewish groups active on the domestic front.

On Wednesday the House passed by a 249-175 vote a hate crimes bill Jewish groups have had as a legislative priority for more than a decade.  For the past eight years former President Bush promised to veto it, but the strong Democratic majorities in both Houses and a new president who supports the measure have dramatically improved its chances, and backers are moving quickly to take advantage of the altered political landscape.

It won’t be a cakewalk in the Senate, but supporters of the measure, which extends existing hate crimes statutes to cover victims of crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability, are fairly confident.

What’s not yet clear: will the Republican leadership decide to make opposition a priority?  Despite continued pressure from the religious right, which insists the hate crimes bill would criminalize preaching from the pulpit against homosexuality, fighting the hate crimes bill seems to have slipped on the conservative.

That’s good news for key hate crimes legislation backers, including  the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and others.

Here’s what the ADL had to say about this week’s House action.

Some of the same groups are anxiously waiting for signals about whether the administration will move aggressively and quickly on comprehensive immigration reform, another top priority.

On Wednesday Obama gave some strong strong signals, telling reporters the current immigration system is “broken” — exactly the words a number of Jewish leaders use.

This is what he said at Wednesday’s press conference:

“We want to move this process.  We can’t continue with a broken immigration system.  It’s not good for anybody.  It’s not good for American workers.  It’s dangerous for Mexican would-be workers who are trying to cross a dangerous border.  It is putting a strain on border communities who oftentimes have to deal with a host of undocumented workers, and it keeps those undocumented workers in the shadows, which means they can be exploited at the same time as they’re depressing U.S. wages.”

He suggested comprehensive immigration reform will be a first-year priority, but also said there’s a lot of work to be done laying “the groundwork for legislation, because the American people need some confidence that if we actually put a package together we can execute.”

The swine flu emergency and the fact the disease apparently began to spread from Mexico are complicating factors.

Finally, at least one Jewish group is pretty happy about this week’s enactment of a congressional budget resolution.

According to JCPA leader Rabbi Steve Gutow, the budget outline “is a critical first step in allowing us to move forward and provide for our nation’s most vulnerable.  Our political leaders must come to the aid of those most affected by the economic downturn, and today’s resolution lays the groundwork for these efforts.”

Here’s the complete JCPA statement.

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) also praised final passage of the budget resolution.

“Most significant is that the budget includes a process for considering health care reform that avoids the prospect of a filibuster,” NCJW president Nancy Ratzan. “NCJW has always advocated for high quality, comprehensive health care that is affordable and accessible for all. Now that it is clear that sustainable economic recovery is impossible without also fixing the health care system, such reform is even more critical.”

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.