Dear President Bush,
As you assume the mantle of leadership and begin to set your agenda, I ask that you consider the following facts about the 11 percent of our population that live in poverty. In 1998 and 1999, poor children fell further into poverty than in any year since 1979. Approximately 9.6 million people are suffering from hunger, almost half of whom are children. More than ever, your help is needed in attending to these issues.
A serious housing shortfall today needs to be addressed early in your Administration. There are about 2 million people who experienced homelessness last year, and more than 7.4 million households, including a large number of seniors, indicated that their housing costs are beyond their means. Within our Jewish community, a major challenge has been providing relief to seniors in dire need. Many of our frail elderly need help with housing, health insurance, long-term care, community-based assistance, prescription drug coverage, transportation, and nutrition.
Another major concern relates to the 45 million people who have no health insurance – almost half are working-poor parents and almost 12 million are children. You have celebrated the vitality and strength of immigrant communities and argued that newcomers have proven a great asset to local communities. And yet working legal immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to have no health insurance at all. We ought to continue our great tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees, rather than making it harder for them to take care of their families.
There is much to be done for education, given that 75 percent of our third-graders read below grade level; many classroom sizes are too large for productive learning, and there is a shortage of 2.2 million teachers in this country.
These data reflect a large and troubling part of America that has not benefited from the robust economy. These people would surely be empowered by initiatives that support them through community-based programs. The Jewish community is committed to working in partnership with you and the Congress on these issues. And as you know there are many other communities with similar commitments.
What makes new community-based programs possible are the forecasts by the Congressional Budget Office of a $5-plus trillion federal surplus over the next ten years. This suggests that there are resources to invest in our national health insurance system, Medicare (on which our elders depend), and to secure the financial stability of Social Security. Our investments should also include initiatives that will invest in poor, frail elderly, and disabled people in need.
Both parties have strongly supported the work of our voluntary nonprofit sector. Your continued support of this sector, both by ensuring that there are adequate public resources for us to meet our mandates as well as further tax incentives that will encourage even more generous charitable giving, would be most welcome.
Mr. President, our Jewish community has long worked shoulder to shoulder with others to address the challenges facing the larger society. Our concern extends beyond our borders and we urge you to ensure that the United States’ commitment to foreign assistance in the Middle East and elsewhere is more generous than ever. As leader of the free world, we look to you to continue America’s longstanding and unconditional support of our great ally, Israel, and work with its leaders and others to forge an enduring peace in the Middle East. This peace cannot wait and I suspect you will find many Members of Congress ready to help you with this pressing matter.
To prevail, you will have to work closely with both Houses of Congress. You will face an evenly divided Senate that will call for bipartisanship to pass any legislation. Your success will depend, in part, on whether your initial priorities focus on issues that both parties deem important and include measures that are supported by the other party. Try to include leadership from the other party in all aspects of deliberations and allow both sides to claim victory.
The House of Representatives is going to be a tougher proposition. The Republicans retain a slim majority and voting procedures allow them to win any vote by one. However, in this diverse body, it is not likely that all Members will vote in lock step with their party, and leadership will have trouble keeping the party together. Further, the bitter partisanship of the past few years, the anger over the disputed presidential elections, the expectation that any successful legislative action might win favor with the voters in 2002, does not suggest a good backdrop against which bipartisan efforts might be hued.
With such closely divided Houses, your leadership with these bodies will shape the potential for a successful agenda. Your selection of Cabinet Members, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and a few other key positions will surely send an important signal regarding your intentions. Americans will be looking to you to take extraordinary steps to heal the rifts of the past few months and the assure us that we are entering a new era.
Vice President, Public Policy
United Jewish Communities Washington Action Office