Shutdown Fallout And Jewish Vote

John Boehner and the Republicans ran up the white flag and the government began reopening this morning as experts began assessing the damage from the GOP’s disastrous shutdown strategy. 

Standard & Poors said it cost the national economy $24 billion.  Economists report the shutdown will affect unemployment (up), business earnings and hiring plans (down), borrowing costs (up), consumer confidence and international economic standing (down).

The shutdown may be over for now, but the deal cut in the Senate this week is a temporary fix that merely kicks the proverbial can down the road, and until there is a new awakening on Capitol Hill, we could see a rerun in January when the spending bill has to be renewed and in February when we hit the debt ceiling once again.

Did anyone learn anything?  Will anything change?  That will depend on the extremists who created this crisis and whether they agree with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) that “we’re doing exactly the right thing,” or with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) who called for a greater effort to find the middle ground.

As dysfunction and hyperpartisanship paralyze Washington, a host of Jewish issues – domestic and foreign, from those serving the elderly and the infirm to preventing Iran from going nuclear – are in peril.

One result of this crisis is that it will help keep Jewish voters solidly in the Democratic column for years to come. Another is what it portends about U.S. influence in the Middle East and globally, nuclear negotiations with Iran and the future of aid to Israel.

If the GOP continues to follow the lead of the Tea Party and the far right, it will become more radical, and Jewish interests will be fundamentally threatened by the rise of extremists who have no power to pass anything, only to block everything. 

As work resumes on passing a budget, Republicans are demanding cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, environmental protection, consumer safety, education and other programs championed by the Jewish community.  On other key issues, you can kiss goodbye to immigration reform, gun regulation and long-overdue critical repair of national infrastructure if the GOP remains inflexible on its hard right positions.

The Republicans’ willingness to push to the brink of government default sent tremors through world markets and badly damaged the confidence of U.S. allies in Washington’s leadership.

Nuclear talks with the Iranians began this week in Geneva, and Israel expects the United States to continue to stand firmly with it and keep up the pressure of sanctions and the threat of military force.  Israel is particularly worried that the Europeans may be too quick to weaken the sanctions without getting much in return, and it needs Washington to keep them on the reservation.

But government gridlock and lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis here inevitably diverts attention from the Iran confrontation; European and Russian leaders, watching an administration boxed in by congressional wing nuts, are less likely to follow the U.S. lead on Iran. Look for them also to try to play a more influential role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, where their sympathies do not lie with Israel.

The Tea Partiers and their allies are demanding further deep cuts in federal spending, and with their isolationist views foreign aid is an inviting target.  Israel is the largest single recipient of American assistance and is trying to negotiate a hefty increase; that is increasingly unlikely as the budget battles drag on; in fact, cuts to Israel’s current allotment are possible.

In this post-shutdown-showdown environment, Republicans will find that being anti-Arab, anti-Iran, anti-Palestinian may appeal to a small core of pro-Likud hardliners, but it is not enough to attract most other Jewish voters. It will take a much more centrist approach on domestic issues; that may not be difficult for the Jewish Republican establishment but it is out of the question for the dominant libertarian, evangelical, Tea Party base of the party.

And that is what will keep Jews solidly in the Democratic column for years to come.

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.