WASHINGTON – Two leading Republicans chastised US President Barack Obama for cutting missile defense funding to Israel in the 2013 budget, in a letter released on Wednesday.

“We are deeply concerned that at a time of rising threats to our strongest ally in the Middle East, the administration is requesting record-low support for this vital defense cooperation program,” wrote Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Buck McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The new White House budget request reduces funding in this area from $106 million for this year to $99m. in 2013. The authors noted that Congress ended up more than doubling the 2012 administration request to $215m.

Democratic Hill sources have told the Post that they anticipate a similar congressional increase in funding for 2013, wiping out any reduction.

The White House did not immediately react to the letter, but referred the Post to a White House website post by Jarrod Bernstein, director of Jewish outreach, in which he wrote, “Informed by our ongoing high-level security dialogue with key Israeli defense and intelligence officials, the president has requested unprecedented support for Israel, even in a challenging fiscal climate.” Obama’s budget includes a record-high $3.1 billion in military assistance to Israel in addition to the missile defense spending.

“The fact is that the president submitted to Congress on Monday the largest White House budget request for foreign military assistance for Israel ever,” said National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris. “But it’s not just the largest for Israel. It’s the largest foreign military assistance request for any country in history.”

Harris described the White House request and the anticipated congressional boosting for missile defense as consistent with the practice of former president George W. Bush, a Republican.

“I’m aware that there’s a $6m. piece of pain,” Harris said, but added, “This is only the first step in the process and I’m confident that President Obama will ensure that Israel gets every dollar it needs for missile defense.”

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