In 1858, Abraham Lincoln famously observed, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Today, he might have added, "Or a Senate." The 107th Congress opens with the most narrowly divided Congress this century. With the Senate split evenly down the middle and the House of Representatives under the control of a slim nine-seat majority, the need for bipartisan cooperation is more pressing than ever before.
And already there is, as the First Session gets underway, evidence that such cooperation is possible. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is continuing to work with Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) to advance campaign finance reform legislation, and there are indications that they have secured enough votes to defeat the filibuster that has derailed their bill in the past. McCain has also crossed the aisle to lend his support to a bipartisan, comprehensive Patients' Bill of Rights that was narrowly defeated in the Senate last year. The new McCain-Kennedy-Edwards legislation will likely pass the Senate, and its companion measure, sponsored by Representative Greg Ganske
(R-IA), has decent prospects in the House. And Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and McCain are reportedly working together, along with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), on a bipartisan gun control bill to close the gun show loophole. On the House side, Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Jim Greenwood (R-PA) have reached across the aisle in an effort to overturn President Bush's executive order on aid to international family planning organizations. All of these are positive developments and hopeful signs that, even on issues traditionally defined by a strong ideological divide between the parties, there may be new progress.
But not all of the news is encouraging. While bipartisanship is a precondition for progress on our agenda, some policies that the Reform Movement strongly opposes are also gaining bipartisan support. Chief among these is "Charitable Choice," government funding of private, sectarian institutions to run social service programs. First passed as part of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, Charitable Choice gained exposure in the 106th Congress. An omnibus bill, the Charitable Choice Expansion Act, is gaining momentum for passage in this Congress, and the Bush Administration has made Charitable Choice a top priority. Other areas of concern include the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban, draconian bankruptcy reform, and school vouchers.
Ultimately, while we know bipartisanship cuts both ways, the only alternative is rancor and gridlock. Lincoln was right. We will therefore be working to build a bipartisan majority, to forge a consensus, on the issues that matter to us, most of which are not currently areas of bipartisan agreement. Many of these issues remain on our agenda because we have made not enough progress in the past. Hate crimes prevention, the death penalty, racial profiling, employment protection for gays and lesbians, increased fuel efficiency standards, a minimum wage increase, and expanded foreign aid to developing nations are all issues familiar to our Movement. Their persistence on our agenda only underscores their urgency. A noteworthy exception from the last Congress is the issue of international debt relief; achieving significant relief for the world's poorest nations was among our greatest victories in the 106th Congress, and we will work to ensure that the bipartisan consensus that prevailed at the end of the 106th will stand firm in the 107th Congress to allocate funds fulfilling America's commitment to this crucial effort.
This closely divided Congress presents not only a challenge, but also an opportunity. In an atmosphere where it takes only a slight push to change the balance of power on any given issue, our voice is particularly important. With that in mind, we will push hard this session for legislation on a few new issues, including addressing the atrocities in Sudan, the ongoing problem of "conflict diamonds," and the deeply troubling racial disparities in the trial and sentencing of capital cases. We will also put our weight behind the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act (S. 330/H.R. 671), an innovative new approach to gun control being advanced by Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI). At the same time, we will continue to support closing the gun show loophole, licensing and registration for handgun owners, and additional resources for the enforcement of current gun control laws. Gun control is not the only place we are looking at new solutions to vexing problems. We will continue to support a bipartisan compromise advanced at the end of the 106th Congress that maintains a delicate balance between civil liberties and national security on the issue of secret evidence.
We will pursue all of these issues, as well as those outlined below and those that will, undoubtedly, develop unexpectedly during this Session. Our fundamental goal remains the same; our motivations remain unchanged; our inspiration remains constant. We will continue to implement the policies of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, their affiliates, and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. We will continue to strive to express the will of our Movement in Washington, to communicate what's happening in Washington to our congregations and their members, and, always and above all, to pursue justice.
- Arms Control
- Campaign Reform
- Capital Punishment
- Civil Liberties
- Civil Rights
- Criminal Justice
- Economic Justice
- Gun Safety
- Hate Crimes
- Health Care
- International Relations and Foreign Aid
We appeal to our own members and congregations, as to all men and women of good will, to redouble their efforts toward the elimination of all forms of racial injustice and to strive unceasingly to complete the mission of equal rights and full opportunities under the law.
UAHC Resolution on "Achieving Equality Under the Law," 1961
Currently, there is no federal law preventing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 39 states it is legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians. In those 39 states, gay and lesbian employees can be fired or otherwise discriminated against solely on the basis of their sexual orientation-real or perceived-regardless of their qualifications, length of employment, dedication, or any other factors. In this Congress, we will continue our support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which will be introduced by Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) and Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), and would prohibit employers from using sexual orientation as the basis for employment decisions such as hiring, firing, promotion, or demotion.
At its November 2000 meeting, the Commission on Social Action passed a resolution "On Legal Equality for Gays and Lesbians," which specifically addresses immigration rights. We stand firmly in support of the Permanent Partner Immigration Act (H.R. 690), introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). This important legislation seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by adding the phrase "or permanent partner" every time the INA uses the word "spouse." By so doing, the legislation would allow gay and lesbian United States citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their partners just as married citizens and permanent residents can.
In support of recent UAHC, CCAR, and WRJ resolutions on racial disparities in the criminal justice system, we will continue to support efforts to end racial profiling. President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have both signaled concern about racial profiling. As President Bush said in his first address to Congress, "Too many of our citizens have cause to doubt our nation's justice, when the law points a finger of suspicion at groups, instead of individuals. All of our citizens are created equal, and must be treated equally." We hope to see a new version of the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act, which would require the Department of Justice to study police stops for routine traffic violations. The evidence gathered by such a study would help us advocate the elimination of discriminatory profiling by police and the U.S. Customs Service.
In a bold move, President Bush has announced a New Freedom Initiative, promising to renew our government's commitment to achieving full equality for the over 54 million Americans with disabilities and to continue the legacy of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. We will support legislation that follows the outlines of the President's initiative-increasing access to technology, expanding educational opportunity, facilitating integration into the workforce, and promoting greater access to community life for people with disabilities.
There is an increasing perception that we have two criminal justice systems: one for affluent whites and one for racial minorities and the poor, separate and unequal.
CCAR Resolution on "Race and the Criminal Justice System," 1999
We will work with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP and other coalition partners to identify and eliminate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system by supporting the enforcement of the Disproportionate Minority Confinement mandate, which requires states to identify and address the different treatment given to ethnic minority youth. We will also continue to oppose the housing of juveniles with adult offenders or in adult prisons.
The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses persists, with disproportionate impact on African-American defendants. There is currently a 1:100 ratio of the quantities of crack versus powder cocaine that trigger federal mandatory minimum sentences. We will continue to support legislation to end crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing disparities, as well as legislation to restore judicial discretion in sentencing first-time offenders.
We call upon our constituencies, and on religious and lay leadership throughout the nation, to speak to the conscience of America, so that years of social progress will not be lost in the name of economic policies which discriminate against those who are impoverished.
CCAR Resolution on "National Priorities," 1974
It is already clear that we will have to fight to enhance our nation's commitment to economic justice on many fronts in this Congress. The first battle is over a renewed attempt to rewrite bankruptcy laws to the disproportionate benefit of banks and credit card companies. This effort failed in the 106th Congress after President Clinton refused to sign the legislation. President Bush, however, has indicated his receptiveness to the bill, and the congressional leadership has "fast-tracked" the issue. Bankruptcy reform legislation (S. 220/H.R. 333), sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Representative George Gekas (R-PA), would unfairly punish Americans when family crises plunge them into financial hardship. The proposed reforms would disproportionately hurt single mothers raising families as well as African-American and Hispanic families, all of whom are over-represented in bankruptcy. We will continue to oppose this approach to reform that prioritizes creditors over the needs of working families.
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative David Bonior (D-MI) are again championing an increase in the minimum wage. Efforts to raise the wage by $1.00 over two years were thwarted last Congress by disagreements over related tax cuts and the number of years across which to phase in the raise. This Congress, Kennedy and Bonior have proposed a three-year implementation of a $1.50 raise (S. 277/H.R. 665). Even with a $1.50 raise, the minimum wage would be worth nearly $1 less (in today's money) than it was worth over 30 years ago, when the wage was $1.60 per hour. No other single measure could do as much for America's poor as raising the minimum wage, and we will continue our steadfast support of the wage increase independent of other policy changes.
The true costs of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act are just now coming to light, and we believe that it is vital to reverse some of the most punitive measures, particularly those that unfairly cut off government aid to legal immigrants simply by virtue of their status as non-citizens. Such measures are not in keeping with our American or Jewish traditions of generosity and fairness, and we will fight to reverse them.
We will also seek to expand some proven programs that have helped provide for the less fortunate in our society. We will advocate an increase in funding for the Low Income Heating Assistance Project (LIHEAP), which ensures that low-income families in cold climates can heat their houses through the winter. We will also support a further expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which keeps low-income families from bearing an unfair burden due to payroll taxes.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to continue supporting public education giving high priority to educating our nation's children and instilling a sense of urgency about the challenges facing public education in our synagogues, in the larger community, and among our elected officials.
CCAR Resolution on "Making Public Education a National Priority," 1998
While we share President Bush's commitment to improving America's public schools, we remain adamantly opposed to any proposal to fund private schools with public funds. Whether couched in the language of "portability," "scholarships," "vouchers" or "flexible grants," we will vigorously oppose proposals that seek to divert public funds to private schools. We are particularly concerned about proposals to increase the amount of money families can place in tax-free "Educational Savings Accounts," as such proposals primarily benefit wealthy families who can already afford private school tuition and divert public money from addressing the core needs of public schools.
We are also concerned about the impact of President Bush's call for national standards and accountability on minority and impoverished students and families. While recognizing the need for bold and innovative efforts to improve public schools, we are wary of proposals that ignore the fundamental inequalities between the resources available to wealthy and impoverished school districts. We are committed to ensuring that every school district provides every student with a comprehensive education.
We stand at the beginning of a new century. The vast majority of scientists and policy experts agree that if dramatic action is not taken soon, it is very likely that human well-being and global geo-political stability in the 21st century will be gravely affected by global climate change.
CCAR Resolution on "National Energy Policy," 2000
In the year ahead, we will join the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) in focusing significant attention on issues related to global warming and our nation's energy policy. Power plants are currently the number one industrial source of air pollution in the U.S. In addition to contributing to global warming, these pollutants can produce soot, smog, and acid rain, causing serious environmental damage and aggravating severe public health problems such as asthma and emphysema. The vast majority of this pollution comes from older power plants that were exempted from the Clean Air Act's emission standards in 1970. We will continue to work to promote a strong "four pollutant" bill that dramatically reduces allowable emissions of the four major pollutants and closes the loophole that currently permits excessive pollution from older power plants.
We will again advocate an increase in vehicle fuel economy standards, which would be the biggest single step the U.S. can take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We saw significant progress when the 106th Congress authorized a study of increasing Corporate Auto Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards, and we hope that the results of the study will lead to serious congressional debate about this crucial issue. We will also continue to support Senate ratification, and implementation, of the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, we pledge to watch President Bush's proposals on energy policy carefully, and we will support elements that increase U.S. energy independence by reducing dependence upon fossil fuels through energy efficiency and the development of environmentally clean alternative energy sources and technologies, and will oppose elements that unnecessarily endanger our natural resources or environmentally sensitive areas.
We will also make a major effort this Congress on matters affecting Children's Environmental Health. We will work to defend the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. Our efforts will include strongly opposing efforts to raise allowable pesticide levels for children to those calibrated to safe levels for adult males. We will also oppose efforts to shift the burden of proof in debates over those pesticides currently regarded as harmful from industry producers to the Environmental Protection Agency and the public.
We will urge Congress not to repeal, delay, or otherwise impede the full implementation and enforcement of existing environmental laws and standards, and we will urge the new Administration to stringently enforce all existing environmental laws. In particular, we will follow-up on our efforts during the 106th Congress to support the Clinton Administration's sweeping roadless initiative for our National Forests by opposing any legislative efforts to reverse or weaken the Roadless Policy. We will similarly oppose any efforts to weaken the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will continue to push for a strong reauthorization bill for the ESA.
Lastly, we will follow new debates on environmental issues. In this spirit, we will work to promote labeling and increased study of genetically engineered and modified foods, and we will closely follow the likely development of a major farm bill this Session, which could have dramatic effects on our clean water supply.
Our task as Reform Jews is to challenge America's conscience and to heed the biblical injunction that we must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. We must embark on a moral offensive and send the message to our elected officials that we care deeply about this issue and will hold them accountable...If the horror generated by recent shootings across the United States is not enough to open the eyes of our elected officials, it is likely that gun control will be consigned to the dust heap for a generation, exposing our society to ever more violence caused by guns.
UAHC Resolution on "Ending Gun Violence," 1999
Last year, firearms claimed the lives of over 30,000 Americans, including nearly 4,000 children and teenagers. While the number of gun-related deaths has decreased in recent years, 10 children still perish each day because of firearms. Despite the challenging dynamics of a Congress and an Administration friendly to the interests of the gun lobby, we stand committed to fighting for the passage of meaningful gun control legislation. We will redouble our efforts to work with Members of Congress to close the gun show loophole and ensure a three-business-day background check for prospective buyers at gun shows. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-NV) will reportedly introduce a bipartisan bill to accomplish this. We will also support legislative efforts, such as the ENFORCE bill, which provide for stricter enforcement of existing laws and an expansion of successful pilot programs. We will work to ban the importation of high-capacity ammunition magazines and support efforts to license and register handguns. Finally, we will enthusiastically support the Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act (S. 330/H.R. 671), sponsored by Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), which would correct the glaring loophole in our nation's consumer protection laws that currently exempts the gun industry from the basic safety and health regulations that apply to every other consumer product manufactured in America (except for tobacco!).
Crimes motivated by prejudice pose a serious threat to our democratic society.
CSA Resolution on "Hate Crimes," 1990
We will continue to support enhanced federal hate crimes legislation, which would improve existing federal statutes in two important ways. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which will be intoduced by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and by Representatives Richard Gephardt (D-MO), John Conyers (D-MI) and Connie Morella (R-MD), would expand the categories of hate crimes to include crimes stemming from bias based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability. While race, national origin, color, and religion are already protected classes, these others are not, and would be only with the passage of this new law. In addition, the proposed legislation would eliminate, in certain cases, the requirement that the government prove the crime was committed because the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity. Further, the legislation would allow for greater federal participation in the prosecution of hate crimes, providing a necessary backstop to state laws without threatening to infringe upon state and local participation in the prosecution of these crimes.
We the people of the United States are confronted by a growing crisis in health care. As communities of faith, we are called to action in the face of such a challenge. While the United States spends more per person on health care than any other nation in the world, growing numbers of people cannot afford simple basic health care, let alone respond to catastrophic and chronic health needs.
CCAR Resolution on "National Health Care," 1991
We will continue to press Congress for a real, comprehensive Patients' Bill of Rights. The bipartisan bill (S. 283/H.R. 526) introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC) and in the House by Representative Greg Ganske (R-IA) is an excellent one. This bill would meet real needs by ensuring emergency room access to all patients, providing greater accessibility to specialists, guaranteeing consumers a fair appeals process of decisions made by HMOs, and holding HMOs legally accountable for service denied.
We will work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that senior citizens have insurance coverage for prescription drugs. We can all agree that no senior should have to choose between buying needed medication and affording the basic costs of living. We will monitor all of the various proposals and support those which most responsibly meets the needs of senior citizens. We will also work with the President and Congress to expand one of the most successful federal health programs ever, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP allows the federal and state governments to share the cost of providing insurance for children in low-income families. We will both seek full funding for CHIP and encourage state legislatures to implement the program to its full potential.
Building on significant increases in last year's budget for the funding of HIV/AIDS programs, we will seek to ensure the reauthorization of those funding levels. We will continue to work with the National Organizations Responding to AIDS (NORA) and other coalition partners to advocate better treatment and aggressive research for those living with HIV/AIDS.
The completion of the first draft of the human genome and the recent discovery of where our genes are clustered on human DNA have brought us closer to the day when we can learn how to prevent or control diseases before they develop. Unfortunately though, genetic information is too often used for nefarious purposes: by insurers who charge higher premiums for customers with genetic predisposition to diseases, and by employers who take predictive genetic information into account for hiring, termination or promotion decisions. Moreover, fears of potential information abuse have caused Americans to avoid genetic testing that could save lives.
We will support the Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act (S. 318/H.R. 602), which was introduced in February by Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Connie Morella (R-MD). This legislation would prohibit employers and heath insurance carriers from using predictive genetic information or genetic testing in hiring, compensation or personnel purposes. The bill would also ban health plans and insurers from restricting enrollment or adjusting premiums on the basis of genetic information, and from requiring that an individual take a genetic test or reveal the results of genetic tests. This bill attracted strong support last Congress but was never brought to the floor for a vote. We will work diligently with Members of Congress to ensure that genetic information is used for the right purposes and never serves as an impediment to seeking medical treatment. We will also advocate the responsible use of fetal tissue and stem cell research, both of which are promising frontiers that can provide information for invaluable medical advances.
International Relations and Foreign Aid
As nations throughout the world emerge from conflict and struggle to achieve sustainable development and the building of democratic institutions, the U.S. has both opportunities and obligations to ensure that the fragile democratic structures of emerging democracies do not crumble under the weight of religious, ethnic, ideological and economic strife; to support existing democracies - including Israel - that still face both external and internal threats to their security and well-being, and to provide assistance for sustainable development initiatives throughout the Third World, helping to guarantee that these often desperately needy nations are able to embark on their own paths toward democracy, stability and prosperity.
CCAR Resolution on "Foreign Aid," 1994
We will urge the Bush Administration to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace process, upholding commitments that the United States has made to parties negotiating in good faith. We will continue to advocate for the aid necessary to help secure a lasting peace between Israel and its negotiating partners. We will continue to push for full funding for aid to Israel, while expressing to Congress our view that such aid cannot come at the expense of aid to other nations in need.
We will urge Congress and the Administration to support measures that will foster peace and security and protect human rights all around the world.