B’nai B’rith International was encouraged to see President Obama address healthcare reform and the global threat from Iran during his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, which focused heavily on the economy and jobs. Reforming our healthcare system and addressing the growing threat from Iran are two key issues for B’nai B’rith.The president also signaled his priorities this year on energy, immigration, and human rights—all of which are also on the B’nai B’rith agenda.
The president linked job growth to clean energy alternatives. We believe this pairing could lead to energy independence. Reducing dependence on foreign oil is fundamental to America’s national security and B’nai B’rith was glad to hear the president address energy matters. We encourage the United States to adopt specific programs that would limit our reliance on oil from nations that may have unsavory anti-American agendas.
The president urged Congress to keep working to reform the health insurance system, something B’nai B’rith has long advocated. Comprehensive healthcare reform suffered a major setback as the House and Senate seemingly have reached an impasse in merging their individual versions of healthcare reform.
With our aging population, ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans takes on greater importance. Healthy aging begins with access to affordable healthcare for all. “Growing old and growing poor, already a dangerous and all too common combination, could become a frightening reality for more older Americans without health insurance reform,” B’nai B’rith President Dennis W. Glick said. “The president’s continuing commitment to pursuing a healthcare agreement is commendable, and we urge the president and Congress to move expeditiously to find areas of compromise that can result in meaningful comprehensive reform that adheres to the principles on healthcare reform we adopted many months ago.”
The president noted the threat Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons poses to the world. And he did say that Iran will face “consequences” for its unrelenting pursuit of nuclear weapons and its defiance of the international community. But he did not explain what that punishment would be, or go far enough in outlining what measures the United States will take to ensure a nuclear-free Iran. Tehran, the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror, has long hidden from the world its vast stockpiles of uranium, and has repeatedly failed to comply with international inspectors.
“Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is the world’s number one security threat,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. The administration’s own deadline for Iran to comply with international norms expired a month ago. “While the president did not speak with specificity, we expect the administration will now move expeditiously at the United Nations Security Council, and elsewhere, to impose sanctions.”
Immigration reform got an important mention in the president’s speech. Obama noted we are a nation of immigrants and said he wants to ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our society. B’nai B’rith, an organization formed 166 years ago to assist new American immigrants, supports immigration reform.
Though he did not mention Darfur specifically, Obama talked about human rights and said America must stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. The genocide in Darfur falls in that category. The staggering brutality of the conflict has left at least 300,000 dead and up to 3 million displaced. Neighboring nations are also facing humanitarian crises as Sudanese refugees seek safety across borders. This massive humanitarian crisis has not abated since it began in 2003. In the fall, the White House committed to enforcing sanctions against the Sudanese government, along with incentives for meeting international demands. It is imperative the international community ensures free and fair elections in April. Without a clean election, the 2005 peace accord has no chance of success.
It was promising that the president noted the importance of enhancing trade relations with key hemispheric allies such as Colombia and Panama.
B’nai B’rith will analyze the president’s plans as they come into sharper focus in the coming days and weeks, and will work to ensure action on our priorities.