Paradigm shift in the federal budget debate; will Jewish groups fight?

 If you had any illusions this year’s budget battle on Capitol Hill would be like past fights – a lot of huffing and puffing, but in the end no real change – Rep. Paul Ryan’s new GOP budget plan should put an end to them.

Ryan, a seven-termer, is pushing a budget proposal he says will slash $5.8 trillion – that’s trillion,, not billion- from the budget over ten years and, he says, begin to address the problem of out-of-control entitlement programs.

And as Budget Committee chairman in the GOP-controlled house and a genuine budget wonk, he’s bound to have a big impact on the debate, although it’s hard to imagine the Democratic Senate going along with his Draconian cuts.

Some Jewish Democrats are saying his proposal, if enacted, would essentially gut Medicare, Medicaid and most of the programs for the elderly, the poor and the sick that came out of the New Deal and the Great Society.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said the GOP proposal would “take us back to the 19th century in every way. No more Medicare, no more Medicaid… Don’t count on government for much help in education.”

All of that is going to be a big problem for liberal Jewish groups and for Jewish service providers that depend heavily on government funding to support critical health and human service programs and groups focused on the needs of the elderly.

Like B’nai B’rith, which is “deeply troubled by the U.S. House of Representatives budget proposal for 2012 released April 5, that would drastically cut—and fundamentally damage—important health programs Medicaid and Medicare,” according to a statement earlier this week.

The GOP plan, the group said, does nothing to control health care costs, but “simply relies on dramatic cuts, with a staggering impact on the elderly. By making Medicaid a block grant while creating a decreasingly valuable Medicare voucher, this bill would deal a devastating double-blow to older adults as well as the disabled.”

B’nai B’rith worries that the proposal, if enacted, “would end the guaranteed Medicare coverage as we know it for the next generation of seniors…and replace it with a voucher to buy health care in the private insurance market—a market with a poor track record of providing affordable, quality health insurance to older people. Even more troubling, these vouchers would not keep pace with the rising cost of all health care, about which this plan does nothing.”

That will be the mantra of Democrats like Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who told The Hill newspaper that “The Republicans are being dishonest about what they’re up to with this reckless budget. They are aiming to destroy Medicare for future generations — not save it.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is also concerned.

“This proposal prioritizes discretionary domestic spending cuts to reduce the size of the federal budget,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the JCPA president. “But the budget must balance prudent reductions with a defense of our nation’s most vulnerable as well as directed investments to create more jobs and spur economic growth. Instead, this budget fundamentally restructures successful programs like Medicaid and SNAP to nominally give the states more control, but will likely reduce access and services.”

As I said, there’s little to no chance Ryan’s proposal will be enacted in its entirety, but it seems to me it is part of a process that is dramatically changing the whole debate over federal spending, the budget deficit and the role of government in supporting the social safety net.

That will mean big new strains for a number of Jewish groups. What I wonder: with the issue of Israel and the fight against delegitimization the hot issue of the day for most, will they have the resources will for a battle that whose outcome will directly affect the lives of many thousands of Jews in this country? And how will they handle the gap between big donors, many of whom will favor a plan that includes more big tax cuts, and professional staffs that dread government cuts that will force their agencies to slash services to vulnerable Jews?

One interesting point: I’m not hearing any of the presumptive GOP presidential candidate endorsing the Ryan plan. When it comes to changing the entitlement programs that millions of Americans depend on,  political reality may prove a lot more difficult than rhetoric.

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.