Meeting with local Jewish leaders, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5) pledged support for aid to Israel and for sanctions on Iran, while backing the extension of a measure that would facilitate charitable donations.
Garrett also told members of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ that he supports a continued freeze on aid to Lebanon’s military.
He said he has declined, however, to support a measure extending federal relief for Medicaid payments, and saw flaws in calls for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Aug. 12 breakfast meeting, held at the Hampton Inn in Newton, included lay and professional leaders in the community, along with Garrett and his outreach coordinator, Matthew Barnes.
NJJN was able to listen to a recording of the meeting and talk to participants afterward.
In a stroke of synchronicity, Garrett’s office announced that morning that he had been appointed to a bipartisan working group in the House of Representative that will work on Iran sanctions implementation.
Garrett said that while he supports the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Divestment, and Accountability Act of 2010, passed in July, he was concerned about implementation due to the number of waivers offered the president and the length of time provided for “studies.”
“We will make sure to hold the administration’s feet to the fire to have implementation,” he said.
CRC members requested Garrett’s support on ensuring foreign aid to Israel as well as advocating for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. CRC member Sarit Catz pointed out that such aid enables Israel to “maintain a military edge over any other possible rivals in the region,” but also has benefits to the United States.
“Our two countries share so many values. Israel, in effect, is on the front lines of our war against global Islamic fascism,” she said. She worried that the foreign aid bill, which already includes many other countries besides Israel, would be rolled into an omnibus spending bill and that as a result Israel’s aid might suffer.
Garrett threw his support behind her, but agreed that it would likely land in an omnibus spending bill, and that there would be little he could do, as a member of the minority party in Congress, to have any real impact.
Garrett said he would join other Republicans in voting against the shoo-in bill — a largely symbolic gesture about government spending, not foreign aid.
“Behind the scenes for issues like this, we will try to lobby the majority,” he said. “But it’s an odd situation to say do me a favor and put this in, but I’m not going to vote for your bill.”
He added, “I believe certain things are outside the area of politics. I believe aid to Israel should be outside the area of politics. Unfortunately, in years past it has become ensconced in politics.”
Charlie Brand, an attorney and member of the Sussex County Jewish community, urged Garrett to support legislation that would extend a 2006 law, the IRA Charitable Rollover Provision, which expired in 2009. That provision enabled anyone 70-and-a-half years or older to roll money directly from an IRA into charitable giving without any tax penalty.
Garrett said he fully supports the measure, but pointed out that the legislation was likely to be “put on the back burner” during the upcoming lame duck period, but hoped it would be revisited in the next legislative cycle.
Garrett raised two objections to calls for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He worried about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insisting on preconditions that make any further talks unnecessary, and Palestinians coming to the table without authority to implement an agreement.
“Preconditions can be okay — unless the preconditions are everything that you want out of the negotiations.” He added, “What Abbas is trying to do is to agree to everything going in the door, and that is wrong.” On the issue of authority, he said, “If at the end of the day, Abbas cannot deliver on the promises he makes, then what have you really accomplished?”
CRC government affairs chair Steve Newmark sought Garrett’s support for extending FMAP, the federal assistance program for Medicaid, which has been temporarily increased to address the rise in Medicaid caseloads and decreasing state revenues resulting from the recession. The latest increase is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31.
“The money from FMAP will be used to prevent cuts that otherwise would have resulted in the Jewish community losing $150 million to $200 million for social services,” said Newmark. “Without the funds from FMAP, the state would be forced to cut back on their Medicaid programs, and the Jewish communal providers would subsequently suffer in bringing much needed care to their communities.”
Garrett defended his vote against extending FMAP.
“The budget projections of this administration show a larger debt than we have ever had before under any other president,” he said. “So when initiatives, whether this or other initiatives, come and say, ‘Let’s spend more money on x’ — fill in the blank for x — whether it’s a program you like or a program you don’t like, two things have to be done: You have to ask, are there any offsets? Can you find other spending areas you can agree on not spending on? That was not even attempted here,” he said.
“The other problem is this,” Garrett continued. “States are encouraged to spend more money because every time they spend a little money, they get a lot more money from the federal government. That’s a mixed or bad incentive program that needs to be fixed long term.”