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Debt Limit Deal Temporarily Averts Threat to Essential Social Safety Net Programs
Reform Jewish Movement Leaders: "Despite its flaws, the compromise averts economic calamity and, by postponing negotiation over entitlement and tax reform, turns down the political thermostat in Congress for a chance at a sober resolution of the nation’s fiscal challenges."

Contact: Eric Harris or Jonathan Backer
202.387.2800 | 

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1, 2011 — In response to the negotiation of legislation to increase the nation’s debt limit, the leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement issued the following statement:

The House of Representatives just passed a compromise that will allow the United States to raise its borrowing limit. We commend the House for making steady progress towards resolving the debt limit crisis. Failure to address the debt ceiling in the short term and the debt crisis in the long term would be catastrophic. The compromise is far from perfect. Despite its flaws, the compromise averts economic calamity and, by postponing negotiation over entitlement and tax reform, turns down the political thermostat in Congress for a chance at a sober resolution of the nation’s fiscal challenges. These are issues we need our elected officials to address in a cooperative, constructive, and, yes, compassionate manner.

The recession officially ended in June 2009 when 9.5 percent of the workforce was unemployed; two years later, the unemployment rate remains virtually unchanged at 9.2 percent. Fiscal contraction, at this time, could lead to further unemployment and will almost certainly prevent Congress from taking action to help put Americans back to work. More importantly, spending cuts, on the scale that is currently being discussed, deeply threaten social safety net programs, long supported by our Movement, which combat poverty even during the worst economic time. The threat of further economic recession and significant damage to the programs on which the most vulnerable rely still looms large.

The compromise delays debate over cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). An initial round of spending cuts would exempt entitlement programs. While it also provides limited protection to other low-income programs by drawing from both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, significant cuts in safety net programs are quite likely. The package also creates a bipartisan Committee to produce an additional $1.5 trillion in savings from either entitlement or tax reform. Limiting the damage to entitlement programs by increasing revenue will prove very difficult, but at least the most critical programs are protected for the time being. Failure by the Committee to produce legislation that has sufficient support to become law, will automatically trigger an across-the-board cut in 2013 that exempts low-income programs, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, while ensuring that Medicare cuts do not reduce benefits.  

We call on Congress to steel itself for the fight ahead to preserve essential social safety net programs and put the jobless back to work. We call on our congregations and rabbis to call their elected officials and ask them to ensure that the poor are protected in any spending cuts and that both entitlement and tax reform occur so that social safety net programs retain their ability to address urgent needs.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie
President, Union for Reform Judaism

Peter Weidhorn
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Union for Reform Judaism

Rabbi Steven Fox
Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi Jonathan Stein
President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism 


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Visit for more.

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