Local congressmen clash on presidential veto
New Jerseyans are scrambling to find new sources of money for an elder-care program because a national appropriations bill that would have provided more than $1 million to the program failed to override a presidential veto.
Rep. Scott Garrett
Five Jewish federations in this state were to receive $1.5 million from the Labor-Health and Human Services Education appropriations bill for the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) program, which provides alternatives including social work, health care, and education services for seniors who choose to remain in their homes rather than move to elder-care facilities. Some $170,000 had been earmarked for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.
United Jewish Communities’ national NORC program targets neighborhoods or buildings where many of the residents are elderly. NORC has more than 40 programs in ‘5 states and relies heavily on federal funding. The program began in ’00’.
The appropriations bill passed both houses of Congress during the summer but President Bush vetoed it earlier this month, citing too many earmarks more than ‘,’00 totaling nearly $1 billion and insufficient funds for programs that deliver positive outcomes.
"Congressional earmarks divert taxpayer funds to localities without the benefit of a merit-based process, resulting in fewer resources for national priorities or unnecessary spending above the requested level," Bush wrote to the House earlier this month.
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Dist. 9), who is credited with securing the UJA-NNJ earmark, argued that Bush himself is responsible for 80 percent of the earmarks passed every year.
"The president’s objections to earmarks represents a new low in hypocrisy and disingenuousness," he said. "This is simply a political device out of the Karl Rove playbook to find some basis to appear to be fiscally responsible in the face of his awful economic legacy."
The Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA-NNJ issued an action alert last week to urge Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5) to support the bill. As it turned out, Garrett was one of only two New Jersey representatives to vote against the bill. All Democratic representatives voted in favor.
Garrett praised the NORC program as a way to "not only give seniors a caring, healthy way to age with grace but also save our health-care system money." But Garrett said the overall bill could not stand.
"Unfortunately, this bill was about politics, not people," Garrett said in an e-mail to this paper on Friday. "The new majority knew it would be vetoed and that the veto would be sustained because this bill would have busted the federal budget and exceeded executive branch budget requests by over $8 billion."
The next step, according to Joy Kurland, director of UJA-NNJ’s JCRC, is for negotiation in the House. If a Democratic proposal goes through, then the earmarks would remain intact. But no action will be taken until at least December because of Thanksgiving.
"We’re hoping for a positive outcome, but we don’t know," Kurland said.
Rothman said the bill would head to a conference committee of members of the House and Senate to either get the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto or prepare a bill that the president would sign without going through the veto process. But Rothman was unsure that the NORC earmarks would survive the process.
"We don’t know if the House conferees will be able to keep that earmark in the bill or whether the White House will demand that it will be removed as excessive and unnecessary spending," he said. "Given the cynical, callous, and purely political nature of the Bush White House, the merits of a program never seem to take priority."
Other New Jersey federations that were to receive allotments include the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, the Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County, the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic had also participated in the NORC program, using $’00,000 in federal funds obtained by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-Dist. 8) in ‘005. But its funding had run out and it was not included in the current bill’s allocation, which Esther East, the director of the federation’s Jewish Family Service, called "painful." However, JFS will still feel a pinch if the bill cannot be revived, inasmuch as other national programs that allocate money to the federation, such as the Rape Prevention and Education program and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, will be affected.
"It will be harmful to people who we had been working with who are victims of family violence," said East. "It would have made more money available for those of us in the domestic violence arena to have applied for more funding. It’s an overall statement that these issues are not priorities."
Although JFS of Greater Clifton-Passaic was not included in the proposed allocations, Pascrell shared Rothman’s anger at the president.
"Unfortunately, the president’s misguided veto of an appropriation measure that would have provided over $1 billion more for aging programs all across the country will have unfair consequences for America’s seniors," he said in an e-mail. "In addition to cutting funds for the retired, both St. Joseph’s Medical Center and Barnert Hospital," both in Paterson, "also stand to lose hundreds of thousands in funding that was approved by Congress. Passaic County joins thousands of other counties that will be hurt by the president’s choice to play politics with an incredibly important funding stream for America’s domestic health, education, and labor priorities."
UJA-NNJ received an allocation for NORC in ‘004 from the Administration on Aging of $196,’35, which the federation matched with a grant of $60,000. The money went toward meals-on-wheels, nurse visits to Temple Sholom in River Edge, and recreational programs. The funds had been for a demonstration project within Garrett’s district, which includes New Milford, Paramus, River Edge, and Bergenfield.
The funding ran out in December ‘006 and NORC programs have been suspended since. With the renewed funding, as well as the money secured by Rothman, the federation had hoped to expand the program into Rothman’s district as well.
Appropriations bill timeline
7/13/’007 Introduced in House.
7/19/’007 Bill passed in a ’76-140 House vote.
10/’3/’007 Bill passed in the Senate with an amendment in 7519 vote.
11/8/’007 Presented to President Bush.
11/13/’007 President vetoed bill.
11/15/’007 In attempt to override the president’s veto, the bill passes the Senate again but fails in a ’77-141 vote in the House.