Rabbi Saperstein: "Eschewing, rightly, the House leadership's preference to seek savings by shifting costs and risk to individuals, [President Obama] offered insufficient alternatives."
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 14, 2011 -- In response to President Obama's speech about deficit reduction, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
President Obama's fiscal policy speech on Wednesday commendably rejected the 2012 budget resolution offered by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), while correctly stressing the imperative of restoring fiscal order in a balanced and just manner. Rejecting in no uncertain terms the most problematic parts of the Ryan proposal -- block granting of Medicaid and food stamps, privatization of Medicare, and yet more tax cuts for wealthy corporations -- President Obama spoke seriously about the challenges we face. Both Congressman Ryan and the President are drawing overdue public attention to the very real problem of our national debt, but President Obama's solutions differ from Ryan's in their commitment to fairness and their willingness to raise additional revenue to climb out of the deficit crisis, while asserting the need for shared sacrifice in restoring fiscal order.
We must note, however, that while the President's rhetoric depicts a vision of America steeped in the twin goals of economic justice and fiscal soundness, his policy prescriptions would not adequately bring that vision to fruition. Eschewing, rightly, the House leadership's preference to seek savings by shifting costs and risk to individuals, he offered insufficient alternatives. Absent from President Obama's speech was a call to immediately repeal tax cuts for all individuals earning more than $200,000 and a return to the tax rates of the 1990s (including the last years of budget surplus), hoping instead for them to expire in 2012. The President's budget reduction proposal relies on three dollars in budget cuts (including interest) for every one dollar raised in additional revenue. Further, he outlined cuts to non-defense discretionary spending -- the 15 percent of the budget that houses the non-entitlement programs that serve low-income families -- that total nearly twice the cuts as those he proposes for the defense budget, even though defense accounts for 20 percent of the budget. A plan skewed so heavily in favor of non-defense discretionary spending cuts over revenue increases and defense cuts raises serious concerns over whether the plan is equal to the task of arresting record growth in poverty and inequality -- the hallmarks of this recession.
At a critical juncture in our national debate, President Obama's reassertion of the importance of social safety net programs to the moral fabric of our nation, saying "each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity," was vitally needed. President Obama's words -- "no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness of layoff, may strike any one of us" -- reflect the Jewish tradition's model of the government's communal obligation to provide for the needy and vulnerable in our midst. Individualism and heated competition produce ingenuity and creativity, but they must be coupled with measures that assure a moral bedrock for our nation.
The challenges we face are significant. We call on the President and members in Congress to remember, above all, that a nation is judged by how it meets the needs of those most in need. Let us ensure that moving forward, we are equally committed to both our nation's fiscal and moral health.