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Groups worry over domestic budget cuts

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups expressed concerns about proposed Obama administration cuts in poverty assistance, but praised the U.S. budget for preserving aid to Israel.

The White House’s proposed budget, released Feb. 14, projects cuts in programs such as heating for the poor and in blocs of money funneled to the states for social programs, and increases funding for education and for “clean energy” development.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said there is “much to praise” in the proposed budget’s “investments in schools, nutrition and energy,” but cautioned that in other ways, “low-income Americans seem to be paying the price for attempts to lower the deficit and pay for these programs.”

Obama’s budget is aimed at launching 10 years of spending cuts and tax increases that would wipe out $1.1 trillion in the national deficit.

Republicans, who control the U.S. House of Representatives, said Obama’s budget won’t do the job and called for deeper spending cuts while rejecting tax hikes.

The National Council of Jewish Women faulted the GOP for what it said were its “punitive and draconian” proposals.

The Jewish Federations of North America commended Obama for “his serious treatment of our nation’s deficit.”

William Daroff, the umbrella’s Washington director, said in a statement that the group recognizes “that there are many difficult decisions ahead as our nation works to spend within our means. However, we urge the President and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of those among us who are most in need.”

Daroff also said a proposal to end itemized tax deductions would reduce charitable giving.

B’nai B’rith International, which runs a system of homes for the elderly, said Obama’s proposed five-year freeze on domestic spending “could eventually jeopardize a range of aging services programs, especially as the baby boomers begin to retire.”

B’nai B’rith praised the budget for preserving assistance to Israel, which according to current levels should reach $3 billion this year.

Republicans have shown little indication that they will seriously cut Israel spending. In a letter this week, members of the College Republican National Committee, a farm for future leaders of the party, urged GOP lawmakers to keep the funding at present levels.

“The ongoing political and social unrest in the Middle East brings into sharp focus the necessity of having a stable ally like Israel in the region,” said the letter, a signal that the mainstream GOP would resist calls from the two Pauls — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) — to cut Israel spending.

“We should seek friendly relations and trade overseas, but we cannot justify lavish gifts to foreign leaders when American taxpayers are increasingly feeling the pain of our economic crisis,” said the elder Paul in a letter to colleagues Tuesday urging them to save $6 billion by slashing funds for Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, pledged in a statement to work with Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of the subcommittee, to maintain such foreign funding as a means of preserving U.S. influence.

“Even in these difficult economic times, we cannot afford to enact broad and haphazard cuts to key pillars of our national security,” said Lowey, whose views closely reflect pro-Israel lobby postures on preserving overall foreign aid, and not singling out Israel for support. “We must not allow our response to an economic challenge to create a national security crisis.”