Congress is in for the lame duck session and Jewish groups have their wish lists ready for their last chance to get legislation through before Republicans take over the House of Representatives.
Many bills Jewish organizations are advocating for have to do with social benefits, and for those, chances look slim. If a Democratic-led Congress will not pass them, it is highly unlikely the legislation will stand a chance once Republicans take the majority.
A top priority for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization representing Jewish Community Relations Councils throughout the country, is the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. The bill, which funds school lunches for children in need, is facing its five-year reauthorization. A version of the bill adopted by the Senate provides funding for the child nutrition program partially by cutting funding for food stamp programs. The JCPA wants approval of a House version, which funds child nutrition without cutting other programs.
Other items on the JCPA’s list include extending unemployment benefits (Republicans have effectively killed this measure, although now Democrats are attempting to tie it to the extension of Bush era tax-cuts, a move that could give the bill a political chance.) The group is also calling for a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — slim chance of it happening this Congress — and for passing the DREAM Act, which would offer undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and serve in the military or attend college a path to citizenship (unlikely to pass given broad Republican opposition). The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has a similar list of priorities it is advocating for in the lame duck session. The RAC is pushing for repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, an issue of long concern for this group, and is also pushing for approval of the DREAM Act. RAC has on its list also the ratification of the New START treaty for U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction.
START, as the Forward has been reporting, is dividing the community, with the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC sitting on the fence and refusing to take a position, a position which in itself is angering some Jewish Democratic lawmakers.
Also lobbying for the DREAM Act is HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which is also hoping for full immigration reform in the next Congress. Support for the DREAM Act comes also from the Conservative Movement, whose representative, Rabbi Jack Moline, participated this week in an interfaith conference call of religious leaders backing the passage of this immigration measure.
Lawmakers were already informed that it might take longer than usual to finish up the legislative work left on the agenda. A group of Senators supporting the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell held a press conference on Capitol Hill in which they stated they’d be willing to stay in town “until Christmas eve” to see DADT repealed. Senator Joe Lieberman, a strong supporter of the measure, added jokingly “the eighth day of Hanukkah.”