While support seems to be slipping everywhere for the federal stimulus package, President Obama can still count on one group of fairly influential lobbyists to fight to the last for the trillion-dollar boondoggle: American Jewish organizations. According to stories in both the Forward and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the United Jewish Communities (the national association of local Jewish philanthropic umbrella groups), the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (the national association of local community relations councils), as well as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women are all heading to Capitol Hill to battle for the stimulus legislation.
An objective observer might ask why sectarian groups devoted to protecting the interests of the Jewish community would want to expand precious political capital on what is rather obviously a partisan dust-up.
The reasons are twofold:
First, groups like the Religious Action Center, the JCPA, and the NCJW have always tended to act, at least on domestic issues, as the faithful auxiliary troops for the Democratic Party. Their political orientation tilts strongly to the left and these groups can always be counted on to define any political issue as a matter of concern to the Jewish community so long as it advances a statist, liberal welfare-state agenda — even if it has very little to do with what is or is not good for the Jews. These are, for the most part, the sort of Jews who have always defined Judaism — as the old joke goes — as the Democratic Party platform with holidays thrown in. Most of them tend to believe in more federal spending and higher taxes with much more fervor than any matter of religious doctrine, let alone matters of life and death to the Jews such as Israel’s security.
But the active participation of the UJC in this debate shows that there is actually more to this story than the institutional liberalism of the organized Jewish world. Local Jewish federations and their affiliated agencies are responsible for a great deal of social welfare needs. These groups fund old-age homes, senior living facilities, and various family service organizations that help the poor. But these institutions are now so costly to run that they have been largely paid for by local, state and federal government money. Budget cuts which make good economic sense have hurt them badly, and Jewish federations — which have seen their own fund-raising decline in the last few decades due to assimilation and competition from secular charities — can’t make up the shortfall. So they have devoted themselves to lobbying for more and more government money in the form of allocations as well as earmarks of all shapes and sizes.
But whatever you might think about the dilemma that social-service providers face in an economic downturn, the all-out campaign by these groups specifically for the stimulus package proves conclusively that this bill is not aimed at helping the economy so much as funding Democratic Party constituency groups. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of billions that the stimulus will give away will do nothing to “jump-start” the economy. It is nothing more and nothing less than a massive federal spending bill. The notion that this money will get the country out of the recession is laughable and its authors know it. What it will do is help bail out a host of causes and groups, some of which we may approve and others we may not. Those national Jewish groups that lobby for the bill should do so honestly and tell us that they need the money. But the pretense that this is part of some grand economic solution is simply false.