As tax battle looms, Jewish groups dive for cover
08/09/2010 - 09:28
James Besser

This is just so predictable, it makes me want to scream.

Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration will go head to head next month in what could be their biggest battle. The issue: whether or not to let Bush-era tax cuts expire in the face of incomprehensibly large deficts and an economy that has not yet recovered from the Great Recession.

And a slew of Jewish groups with a big stake in the debate will be struck mute.

Their silence isn't because it doesn't matter. In the past few years I've talked to numerous on-the-ground Jewish social and health service providers who are scared witless that the taxes-are-evil ethos that has been beat into our silly little heads continues to unravel the government social safety net, as well as put a big crimp in many other vital things our government does – like regulating the financial industry that contributed so mightily to the not-quite-ended recession and protecting the environment.

Government cuts, along with the nation's ongoing economic woes, mean huge new demands on a Jewish service network that depends heavily on government grants; you see the problem here, don't you?

Yet the national organizations to which these groups turn for help in Washington run for cover every time the tax cut issue comes up.

The reason is obvious: more and more, these organizations are dependent on big givers to meet their big payrolls – the same well-off segment that continues to benefit disproportionately from Bush-era tax cuts, and generally doesn't want to see them rescinded.

So our communal organizations, so vocal on such a wide range of issues, are uncharacteristically silent on economic policies that their own professionals know are undercutting the services they provide.  I haven't heard from any groups, but my guess is that only the Reform movement and the National Council of Jewish Women will have anything to say about what could be the biggest fight yet for the Obama administration.

I'm no economist, but some things are so obvious that even a reporter can figure them out. You can't conduct two extraordinarily long and expensive wars and build a vast, government-funded network of security agencies to cope with the terrorism threat, and at the same time keep cutting taxes. It just doesn't add up.

We see the results in the deterioration of  our nation's social and physical infrastructure continues to deteriorate.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that state and local governments, stressed to the max by the ongoing economic crisis, are beginning to pare back even “core” services like education and transit.

The Times' Paul Krugman also wrote  that some states are starting to break up highways they can't afford to maintain and returning to gravel. Is this the America of the future?

It's hard to see how the vast network of Jewish health and social services that depend heavily on government funding can continue to flourish in this environment. Yet all we get from national Jewish leaders is terrified silence.

This isn't about partisan politics, it's about arithmetic; cut taxes during a timer of war, go through a big recession, and there won't be enough money to provide the services so many Jewish groups regard as vital. So where are their voices?
 

Comments

one of the real traps that we fall into as Jews is to express opinions on economic and political matters outside of our areas of responsibility or expertise. To assume that there is a "Jewish position" on tax cuts or on agricultural subsidies or on cap-and-trade is to assume that we can reformulate Judaism to fit whatever our personal agenda may be at the time.

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