In early August, President Obama reached a compromise with congressional leaders to increase the borrowing limit of the United States. View a statement from the leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement on the debt ceiling compromise. The compromise averts economic disaster. It does so, however, in exchange for extracting hundreds of billions of dollars in non-entitlement spending cuts and then sets up a bipartisan Committee to achieve $1.5 trillion in additional savings, including entitlement and tax reform.
The compromise delays debate over cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). An initial round of spending cuts would exempt entitlement programs. While it also provides limited protection to other low-income programs by drawing from both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, significant cuts in safety net programs are quite likely. The package also creates a bipartisan Committee to produce an additional $1.5 trillion in savings from either entitlement and tax reform. Limiting the damage to entitlement programs by increasing revenue will prove very difficult, but at least the most critical programs are protected for the time being. Failure by the Committee to produce legislation that has sufficient support to become law will automatically trigger an across-the-board cut in 2013 that exempts low-income programs, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, while ensuring that Medicare cuts do not reduce benefits.
The compromise will only be a fair one if, during the appropriations process, Congress achieves the mandated spending cuts in a manner that preserves essential social safety net programs and if tax reform occurs in addition to entitlement reform.
Deuteronomy teaches, “If there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient” (15:7-8). The debt ceiling compromise will on be a fair one if Congress enacts mandated spending cuts and negotiates entitlement and tax reform in a manner that protects the most vulnerable among us. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis each have passed many resolutions supporting the goal of deficit reduction, while also insisting that the poor and vulnerable do not shoulder the burden of spending cuts.
Contact your elected officials and ask them to ensure that the poor are protected in any spending cuts that result from the debt ceiling compromise, and ask them to ensure that both entitlement and tax reform occur so that social safety net programs retain their ability to address urgent needs. The Capitol switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121.
For more information, please contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Ian Hainline at 202.387.2800.