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February 14, 2003 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-14

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Washington Watch

Red Ink

Jewish organizations brace for U.S. budget fallout.

Washington Correspondent

ewish social service providers
are preparing for what one
leading activist called a "budget
catastrophe" as Congress takes
up the Bush administration's $2.23 tril-
lion budget proposal for Fiscal Year
The proposal includes record deficits,
big domestic program cuts and a deck
full of budgetary wild cards, including
the unpredictable costs of the expected
war against Iraq.
"The budget proposal is as we expect-
ed — generous on defense and home-
land security expenditures, ungenerous
on non-defense discretionary pro-
grams," said Diana Aviv, vice-president
for public policy of the United Jewish
Communities, which helps fund hun-
dreds of Jewish social service agencies
around the country. "There is virtually
no increase for most of the programs we
care about; most will not keep up with
inflation," she said.
The proposed budget hands over con-
trol for many social programs to state
authorities and cuts a number of pover-
ty programs. Administration officials
concede that their budget means record
deficits for the foreseeable future; the
administration's proposed $695 billion
economic stimulus package, consisting
of tax cuts that critics say favor the rich,
could add to the red ink.
According to the Center for Budget
and Priorities, a liberal think tank, the
administration's various tax-cutting pro-
posals could reduce revenues by almost
$2.1 trillion through 2013.
Under the Bush budget, numerous
poverty and human services, including
unemployment benefits and Head Start,
would be shifted in part to the states;
the budget proposes outright cuts in a
number of poverty programs. Section
202 housing for the elderly was held at
current levels, despite rising demand
and increasing costs.
The administration proposed a $400
billion overhaul in Medicaid, but pro-
vided few details. But states will be
encouraged to convert much of their
Medicaid programs into block grants.
That, critics say, would let states make
cuts not currently allowed under federal
law, affecting working parents, children,




the elderly and people with disabilities.
Publicly, Jewish leaders lament flat
levels of funding that mean effective
decreases; privately, they dread the pos-
sibility of a stampede to hack away at
social service programs as the dimension
of the federal budget crisis become
apparent to lawmakers.
"The numbers are looking worse by
the day," said a leading Jewish activist in
Washington. "We're starting to see a
rebellion from Republican conservatives
about the deficit. What alarms us is that
their reaction will be to cut even more
deeply into social spending, not to
reverse the (2000) tax cuts or block new



the Bush administration — facing a
worsening budget crisis and the
prospect of open-ended costs for the
Iraq war — is putting the brakes on.
This week, U.S. officials canceled
meetings with an Israeli delegation that
was scheduled for another working ses-
sion on the new aid, which Israel hopes
will include $4 billion in outright aid
and $8 billion in loan guarantees.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon's office blamed the delay on
"technical reasons." But Washington
sources indicate that some administra-
tion officials are irked about leaks from
the Israeli government suggesting that
the aid and loan guarantees are all but a
done deal.
"One of the problems is that Israel
tends to look at Washington as a bot-
tomless source of money, and isn't par-
ticularly sensitive to the budget prob-
lems in this country," said a longtime
pro-Israel activist. "There is a lot of
sympathy for the Israeli request in the
administration and in Congress, but the
White House has a lot of other
demands on the budget right now that
are more urgent."
Leaks in Jerusalem about how the aid
will be a political slam-dunk aren't
appreciated by an administration that is
walking a budgetary tightrope, the
source said. "The problem isn't with
Israeli officials in Washington; it's in
political circles in Jerusalem, where peo-
ple are openly bragging about how the
aid will be flowing by spring," the
source said.
In fact, the Bush administration has
made it clear in discussions with Israeli
officials that any new aid will be provid-
ed only as part of a post-Iraq regional

Compounding the problem is the fact
that up to 37 states have
budget emergencies of
their own. This week,
the National Conference
of State Legislatures
revealed that state budg-
et deficits have grown
more than 50 percent in
the last two months
alone; two-thirds of the
states must reduce their
budgets by nearly $26 billion between
now and June 30. That means even
more pressure for budget cuts.
"We're seeing the potential for cata-
strophic cuts in New York," said
William Rapfogel, executive director of
the Metropolitan New York -
Coordinating Council on Jewish
Poverty. "We have a state with a $13
billion deficit, a city with a $5 billion
deficit. New cuts by the federal govern-
ment will have an overwhelming impact
on state and city governments."
And across the nation, he said, Jewish
agencies are facing rising demand for
services as "the economy teeters and
people are losing jobs. There are more
GOP Muslims
people in need, with less money to help
them. Virtually every social service pro-
Jewish Democrats are eager to exploit a
gram will feel the impact."
public spat between top administration
Rapfogel said job training and place-
supporters over the GOP's sputtering
ment programs, home health care, sen-
outreach to American Islamic groups.
ior housing and programs serving the
The dispute centers on conservative
poor will be among the hardest hit.
guru Grover Norquist — an anti-tax
crusader and the GOP's point man in
efforts to build political bridges to the
Aid Hanging
fast-growing Moslem population —
The Israeli government continues to
and Frank Gaffney, president of the
insist new U.S. aid and loan guarantees
conservative Center for Security Policy,
could come in a matter of months, but
a foreign policy think tank with close

Bush administration ties.
First, Norquist accused Gaffney of
"racial prejudice, religious bigotry or
ethnic hatred" for criticizing an
American Muslim who works at the
White House. Gaffney fired back with
an "open letter" accusing Norquist of
engaging in "possibly dangerous activi-
ties" because of his work with American
Muslim groups, and of serving as an
enabler for Arab and Muslim groups
seeking to "penetrate and otherwise
influence political circles in
Specifically, Gaffney attacked the
Islamic Institute, a group Norquist
helped found. The organization was
originally created as a Muslim version of
the Christian Coalition, to focus mostly
on domestic issues; critics like Gaffney
say it now focuses on providing high-
level government access to the most rad-
ical Muslim forces.
This week, the National Jewish
Democratic Council plunged into the
fray. In a statement, the group seemed
to support Gaffney —
an arch-conservative
who has little in com-
mon with the
Democratic group.
NJDC Director Ira
Forman said the Bush
White House is "driven
by politics to an
unprecedented degree,"
and "it's particularly dis-
turbing to read reports that Grover
Norquist might be using his influence
and his top-level White House connec-
tions to bring those with terrorist associ-
ations into the Bush White House."
Forman added that "any person with
terrorist ties should obviously not be
ushered into the White House and
legitimized in this way."
But Jewish Republicans say the
Democratic group didn't have the same
misgivings when the Clinton White
House gave access to Muslim groups
some considered even more radical than
the Islamic Institute.
Forman was unapologetic. "Give me a
break," he said. "We are a partisan
organization, but over the years we have
not been reluctant to criticize
Democrats when it was appropriate.
You have to go back to the Mesozoic era
to find an example of the Republican
Jewish Committee criticizing any
Republican short of David Duke," the
Louisiana former Ku Klux Klan leader.

Marching On

The Bush administration's faith-based

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