The shutdown showdown: Bad for the Jews

One result of this crisis is that it will help keep Jewish voters solidly in the Democratic column for years to come.

U.S. President Obama (rear C) meets with bipartisan Congress (photo credit: Reuters)
U.S. President Obama (rear C) meets with bipartisan Congress
(photo credit: Reuters)
If you’ve enjoyed the drama of the government shutdown and debt crisis, you’ll be happy to know you will probably relive the experience very soon. Senators seem to have worked out a temporary deal, but first the dysfunctional House must agree before the government can reopen, and that is very iffy.
If the crisis is to end, at least for now, Speaker John Boehner must find his backbone.
That’s because this whole mess – which he said he never wanted – began when he abdicated his leadership to extremists in his caucus who would rather blow up the government and force default than compromise.
And as dysfunction and hyperpartisanship paralyze Washington, a host of Jewish issues – domestic and foreign, from those serving the elderly and the infirm to preventing Iran from going nuclear – are in peril.
If the government is allowed to reopen and the debt ceiling is raised, what will Republicans have accomplished in creating this crisis? Bupkiss. All these negotiations have done is wait until the 11th hour and 59th minute to do what Washington does best: kick the proverbial can down the road so the whole drama can be repeated early next year.
One result of this crisis is that it will help keep Jewish voters solidly in the Democratic column for years to come. Another is what it portends about US influence in the Middle East and globally, nuclear negotiations with Iran and the future of aid to Israel.
Unlike Tea Party supporters and many on the extreme right, Jews historically are not anti-government. They have instead looked to government to protect religious freedom, civil liberties and provide a social safety net.
For an aging Jewish population with many living at or near the poverty level, this is particularly important in 2013 – and programs serving that population are already being pounded by the extremists’ brinkmanship and the Republican leadership’s cowardice.
The GOP’s retreat to the far right means the party will become more radical, and Jewish interests will be fundamentally threatened by the rise of extremists who have no power to pass anything, only to block everything.
Republicans are demanding cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, environmental protection, consumer safety, education and other programs championed by the Jewish community. You can kiss goodbye to immigration reform, gun regulation and long-overdue critical repair of national infrastructure.
We have a government in a state of paralysis and a GOP dominated by elements that want to keep it that way, particularly in the House, where the leadership is terrified of its radical minority and unable or unwilling to lead lest it be overthrown.
The current crisis began when Tea Party extremists and their House allies, egged on by their pied piper, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, took the federal budget hostage and demanded as ransom an end to funding for the Affordable Care Act – passed by both Houses, signed into law and upheld by the courts, a legislative done deal. When the president and the Democrats refused to surrender, the hostage takers switched to demanding the Democrats give them a face-saving escape route that would allow them to claim victory.
There are many losers – furloughed federal workers who lost pay even though many were required to work during the shutdown, visitors who couldn’t get into national parks and monuments, medical research, programs serving women, children, the poor, the elderly – the list is long and growing daily.
On the international front, the government meltdown could prove a disaster for Israel.
The rise of the Tea Party and the isolationist right signals an American retreat on the world scene. Just this month the president was forced to cancel his trip to Asia for longplanned economic and security conferences.
It was essential to the administration’s pivot from Euro-centric foreign policy to Asia. Regional allies questioned America’s commitment to their concerns, and the American absence created a vacuum, which China wants to fill. But the xenophobes could care less.
The Republicans’ willingness to push to the brink of government default sent tremors through world markets and badly damaged the confidence of US allies in Washington’s leadership.
Nuclear talks with the Iranians began this week in Geneva, and Israel expects the United States to continue to stand firmly with it and keep up the pressure of sanctions and the threat of military force. Israel is particularly worried that the Europeans may be too quick to weaken the sanctions without getting much in return, and it needs Washington to keep them on the reservation.
But the government crisis here inevitably diverts attention from the Iran confrontation; European and Russian leaders, watching an administration boxed in by congressional wing nuts, are less likely to follow the US lead on Iran. Look for them also to try to play a more influential role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The Tea Partiers and their allies are demanding further deep cuts in federal spending, and with their isolationist views foreign aid is an inviting target. Israel is the largest single recipient of American assistance and is trying to negotiate a hefty increase; that is increasingly unlikely as the crisis drags on, and cuts to its current allotment are possible.
The worst wounds in Washington are selfinflicted.
Republicans picked a fight for which they had no plan and no strategy, and having lost are now searching for a face-saving way out.
Only 24 percent of Americans have a positive view of the GOP. Seventy percent of those responding to the NBC/WSJ poll said they believe Republicans are “putting their own political agenda ahead of what is good for the country.” Most blame Republicans for the government shutdown and a plurality want the Democrats to take control of the Congress in next year’s election.
The all-important independent voters appear to be deserting the party. Ironically, in their losing assault on Obamacare, Republicans appear to have made the program more popular among the public.
The shutdown has been a political disaster for the GOP. With an elephant as the party symbol, you’d think they might remember what the last government shutdown cost them and how damaging this one has been, and maybe they wouldn’t be so anxious to repeat it. But with a short-term deal on the table, it looks like we’re going to go through this again in January and February. It must be Washington’s version of Groundhog Day, which happens to be February 2.©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield [email protected]