As a congressional committee discusses legislation to reduce the federal debt, leaders from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the local Jewish community and the United Way met with U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) to discuss the potential impact on Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Stuart K. Skinner, deputy secretary and CEO for archdiocesan Catholic Health Care Services joined with a representative of United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and several representatives of Jewish organizations in an Oct. 19 meeting with Toomey initiated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Toomey is one of the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, created in August as a response to the debt ceiling crisis. Equally divided between the House and Senate and the Democratic and Republican parties, it is charged with issuing a recommendation by Nov. 23 for $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. This recommendation will be subject to an up or down vote by both chambers without amendment before Dec. 23. If they fail to pass it, they will trigger an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts.
Among the items proposed by the group to Toomey:
— The Joint Committee final recommendation must be based on the principle that any solution to the debt crisis requires shared sacrifice and should be balanced while positively influencing economic growth, helping to reduce the budget deficit and creating jobs.
— Reductions in discretionary spending should be taken in approximately proportionate amounts from both domestic and national security/defense sectors. Spending cuts should not unfairly target the most vulnerable people.
— Medicaid should not be turned into a block grant or capped program. Instead, the delegation suggested, savings should come through changes that would promote greater efficiency in operation, a number of which they listed.
— Any reform in the tax code should not reduce charitable tax deductions, because it is through these charitable contributions that the various agencies provide necessary social services.
— Any modification of Social Security should provide for long-term solvency of the program.
“It was a pleasure to sit down with members of the Jewish Federation, United Way and the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese last Wednesday,” said Toomey, a first-term senator. “The discussion provided me with unique insight into their goals and the issues that are most important to them. I appreciate their time and their input as I continue working to reduce the deficit and foster economic growth.”
“We understand the need for cuts,” said Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “We want shared sacrifice, and we want to make sure the most vulnerable do not bear the burden.”
Toomey, she said, “was most interested in what we had to say about streamlining programs and what we had to say about proposed changes in tax exemption for contributions to charitable organizations. When you expect charities to assist, you can’t impair their ability to raise funds. People may not give as much if there is less incentive.”
Although the meeting was proposed by the Jewish groups, the Archdiocese was invited to participate because “this is not just a Jewish issue and there are more Catholics than Jews,” Schatz said. “We love partnering.”
From Skinner’s point of view, partnering with groups such as the Jewish Federation “is common sense; we are united with the Jewish people in this.”
Toomey “was most gracious to take time to meet with us,” Skinner said. “He heard us, he didn’t talk down to us, and he took our interest seriously.”
In considering streamlining health care programs, for example, the group discussed situations where a patient’s condition is judged to be terminal. As head of Catholic Health Care, the agency that operates six archdiocesan nursing homes and other health care facilities and programs, Skinner suggested there should be a conversation with clergy and physicians that would help people prepare themselves spiritually to possibly enter a hospice program instead of continuing futile and expensive treatment to extend life.
Legislation that has called for similar rethinking of end of life care has given rise to a fear of so-called “death panels,” but Skinner says that is not the case. “We should encourage conversation with family members and the health care system,” he said.