National Jewish organizations are notoriously prolific when it comes to issuing press releases. So the near silence that followed the issuance of President Donald Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget on May 23 was surprising. In general terms, the budget raises defense spending at the expense of social programs and argues that it will pay for itself through a dubious projection of a 3 percent annual growth in GDP.
A prominent exception to the Jewish organizational silence was Rabbi Dov Pesner of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. He said in a statement, “Drastic reductions in spending on health care, food assistance, education, affordable housing and family planning would do profound harm to the most vulnerable members of our society and abdicate the government’s responsibility to those most in need of support.” A similar sentiment was expressed by Abby J. Leibman of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. But there wasn’t much more from any other of the otherwise vocal Jewish organizations.
Perhaps other national Jewish organizations were distracted by Trump’s visit to Israel the same day as the budget was released. They shouldn’t have been. The president’s proposed budget is an important issue, and deserves careful review. And any group that ignores this step in the budget dance has miscalculated. While it is true that it is ultimately Congress that sets the federal budget, the administration’s proposal is essentially an outline of a president’s priorities, and carries significant weight.
When the administration released a bare bones budget outline in March, we thought it was a budget sure to hurt everyone, including Trump voters. The fleshed-out budget doesn’t change our opinion — it only strengthens it — because this more detailed version is nastier and more brutish.
The list of losers in Trump’s budget is long, and his approach threatens those most vulnerable. We can find threatened impact in virtually every area of public need or service, and in almost every aspect of the orderly administration of the government itself. The only things that seem to be protected in Trump’s budget are military spending and tax cuts.
The list of affected services and people is mind-numbing, including the proposed slashing of more than $800 billion from Medicaid, $191 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and $11 billion from American diplomacy and soft power. But Trump’s budget allocates $1.6 billion for the promised wall on the border with Mexico, and provides for a $5.5 trillion tax cut that disproportionately benefits the wealthy. These numbers are breathtaking in their brutality.
Which begs the question: Why is the White House rolling out a budget that everyone knows has absolutely no chance of being adopted? Pandering to the base? Giving the president deniability when things go south in Congress? Changing the focus of discussion from Russia to the budget?
Whatever the answer, where is the public voice of concern and outrage from the organized Jewish community?