Jewish Leaders React With Mixed Feelings to Passage of U.S. Budget Bill

The bill will allow the U.S. government to increase debt ceiling so long as certain budget cuts are made; Rep. Gabrielle Giffords casts vote for first time since sustaining gunshot wound to her head seven-months-ago.

Jewish leaders reacted with mixed feelings to the passage of a U.S. bill on Tuesday that will allow the U.S. government to continue borrowing money – so long as it makes certain budget cuts. The bill was passed in both houses on Congress following several weeks of nerve-wracking negotiations between U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers and the Obama administration.

The House of Representatives supported the plan, voting on Monday 269 against 161. The leading Democrats voted for it, however they criticized its focus on cuts with no revenues, while the Republicans insisted that taxes not be raised.

Gabrielle Giffords.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords cast her vote for the first time since sustaining a gunshot wound to the head seven-months-ago in Tuscon, Arizona, making the event even more dramatic and significant. It remains unclear as to whether Giffords, who returned to Texas after casting her vote to resume rehabilitation, will run for reelection. Her party members, however, are preparing for her full return, and have begun fundraising in the event she feels up to making a comeback.

The Senate also successfully passed the bill on Tuesday, with 74 supporters against 26 "nays".

The bill, which U.S, President Barack Obama is supposed to sign later Tuesday, raises the debt ceiling while guaranteeing more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.

Following the passage of the bill, Cheryl Fishbein, Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America Domestic Affairs Cabinet, said in a statement that “after more than a century of lending a hand to those in need, the Jewish Federation movement knows the importance of Congress’ historic decision today to maintain America’s good credit while protecting our nation’s most economically vulnerable populations.”

Despite this, Fishbein cautioned that “we are not yet out of the woods. To uphold the ideals and needs of our nation as the budget debate enters the next round of cuts, we hope that our leaders use a compassionate and evidence-based approach to solving America’s budget crisis.”

The Jewish Federation chair called on the public to look out for those in need, saying that although “the Jewish Federations of North America will always be there to help, we look forward to our continued partnership with the government to help us continue this important work."

William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America, was less optimistic, calling the passing of the bill was no more than "temporary relief".

"As this worrisome debate moves on to the next round, the Jewish Federations will continue to work with our allies in the White House, Congress, and members of the to-be formed ‘special committee’ to ensure programs and policies that support the poor, elderly and U.S. Jewish community remain protected while we work on balancing the budget,” Daroff said Tuesday.

President Barack Obama made a short statement following the vote in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday, saying “it shouldn't take the risk of default, the risk of economic catastrophe, to get folks in this town to work together and do their jobs, because there's already a quiet crisis going on in the lives of a lot of families and a lot of communities all across the country.”

Obama continued, adding that “in the last few months, the economy's already had to absorb an earthquake in Japan, the economic head winds coming from Europe, the Arab Spring and oil prices, all of which have been very challenging for the recovery. These are things we couldn't control. Our economy didn't need Washington to come along with a manufactured crisis to make things worse".

Obama called it "an important first step to ensuring that, as a nation, we live within our means - yet it also allows us to keep making key investments in things like education and research that lead to new jobs, and assures that we're not cutting too abruptly while the economy's still fragile".

Despite his optimism about the bill, Obama called on lawmakers to continue working to improve the U.S. budget, cautioning of the repercussions that a lack of improvement could have on the American people.

"We can't balance the budget on the backs of the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of this recession,” the U.S. president said, adding “we can't make it tougher for young people to go to college or ask seniors to pay more for health care or ask scientists to give up on promising medical research because we couldn't close a tax shelter for the most fortunate among us.”

Obama called on all Americans to do their part to improve the American economic situations, calling on Congress to “take some bipartisan, commonsense steps, that will make a difference, that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs.”

He called for tax-cuts for middle-class families, patent reform, and follow-through on pre-negotiated trade deals that would help displaced workers looking for new jobs as well as allow American businesses to sell more products in Asian and South American countries “that are stamped with the words, ‘Made in America’."