WASHINGTON - Several Jewish groups that have lobbied on behalf of health care reform on welcomed the news that US Senators had reached a deal over the weekend clearing the way for comprehensive legislation to go forward.
The arrangement, which took weeks of contentious negotiation, is expected to be approved in a vote before Christmas, on Friday. The House and Senate will then have to reconcile their significantly different versions before the bill gets sent to the president's desk, on track for late winter.
Though the political wrangling is far from over, the reform program's anticipated passage by the Senate also helps free up Congress to look at other pressing legislation, including sanctions against Iran. That has pleased Jewish groups that don't deal with domestic issues, as the House has already passed the sanctions measure but the Senate has yet to vote on it. Senate consideration of the bill could now come when winter recess ends in January, if not sooner.
"This bill is going to help provide health insurance for 30 million Americans who don't have it. That's a huge step forward and major advance, and we're proud of the role we played in bringing it about," said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Washington office of the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center.
The RAC has been intensively involved in lobbying for health care reform since the beginning of the Obama administration, rallying some 1,000 member synagogues, their rabbis and membership to push members of Congress and opinion leaders to back the effort.
But Pelavin, like others pressing for health care reform, was less than fully satisfied with the versions produced by the House and Senate. The recent compromises have meant that some details don't square with the agenda of those who initially called for the measure. For the RAC, some of the language limiting abortion access as well as removing a public health insurance option are particularly problematic.
And some Jewish groups opposed the legislation as it stands. The Republican Jewish Coalition has been among the most prominent in criticizing aspects of the plan.
At the same time, many organizations have pushed for specific provisions in the massive bill, regardless of their stance on the package as a whole. The Jewish Federations of North America, for instance, backed key votes this month in favor of a voluntary disability insurance program for adults with long-term healthcare needs.
Other Jewish activists have been pleased that such a major domestic issue is closer to getting resolved so that crucial international matters can receive more attention.
"The focus on Capitol Hill has been on the health care legislation. Whether people are for it or against it, they've been obsessed with this bill. The system got clogged from looking at other important issues, like Iran," said The Israel Project head Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who referred to health care debate as "the ultimate in political blood sport in Washington for some time."
Given this and other major issues, including the economic meltdown and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mizrahi said that "it has been incredibly challenging to keep people's attention focused on the Iranian nuclear threat."