White House Reaches Out to Hadassah, Economic Recovery bill passes senate

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

When President Barack Obama went before a Ft. Myers, Fla. audience to pump for grassroots support for his economic recovery plans, the White House made sure there was a substantial delegation from Hadassah in the room.

“It was an uplifting, upbeat message,” said Sharon Sisselsky , president of the Florida Central Region of the big women’s Zionist group.  “I’m not sure I heard anything I hadn’t heard before, but he really did make you leave the room  feeling hopeful.”

Hope is in short supply in Florida, the epicenter of the real-estate collapse, she said – one reason the President use the state as a platform for his economic pitch. Earlier in the week, he was in the hard-hit town of Elkhart, Ind.

The Hadassah delegation of 10 women came to the event after  the White House reached out to the group’s Washington office.

“We have a reputation for being very active, we have members in every congressional district,” Sisselsky said.  “They understand our lobbying power, they have seen Hadassah women from all over the country during our Washington missions.”

The White House clearly hopes members will use their Hadassah networks to help generate grassroots support for the administration’s economic recovery plans.

“The meeting was all about the economy,” Sisselsky said. “It was particularly exciting because the President stopped during the question and answer period to announce the Senate had passed his stimulus plan. It was very exciting to be in the thick of things.”

At the town hall session Obama struck the combative tone he adopted after it became clear his economic recovery plans would win almost no support from congressional Republicans.

“We simply can’t afford to wait and see and hope for the best,” he told the group. “We can’t afford to posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. After all, that’s what this election was about. You rejected those ideas because you know they haven’t worked. You didn’t send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same, you sent us there to change things, and that is exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States.

Jewish groups were generally pleased that the Senate passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Tuesday, despite cuts from the previously passed House version on some key items.

Both versions include increases in FMAP, the formula the federal government uses to determine reimbursement to states for various medical and social service programs – a top priority for groups like United Jewish Communities.

But the Senate  version cut money for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program – which Jewish groups were instrumental in creating  – by half, to $100 million. And senators pared $3.5 billion from the food stamp program; Jewish groups had lobbied hard for more money for the program, which faces soaring demand in the face of the economic crisis. The Senate also zeroed out funding in the bill for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides emergency help for Americans who can’t afford to pay their heating bills.

Jewish groups hope some of those funds can be restored when House-Senate conferees try to hammer out a final version of the legislation.

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.