(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
WASHINGTON -- Congress has resolved a budgeting dispute with the Trump administration by sourcing hundreds of millions of dollars in missile defense aid for Israel from its base budget– and not from a fund typically reserved for US wartime operations, as was initially proposed.
The White House made clear over the summer that it was not opposed to adding hundreds of millions of dollars above its own budget for missile defense to Israel, but rather the vehicle for its delivery– an unprecedented use of dollars typically saved for US military readiness. Earlier this month, Congress approved the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to include $705 million for US-Israel missile defense cooperation, including $588 million over President Donald Trump's proposed budget.
The House had proposed for the first time tapping the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget for this aid increase– a fund that is effectively uncapped by the Budget Control Act and has become a loophole through which Congress and the Pentagon get around budget cuts ever since sequestration (a legal procedure in which automatic spending cuts are triggered if the federal budget exceeds a set limit) hit defense programs hard in 2013.
In July, a National Security Council spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post
that "misuse" of OCO funds for any purpose but US wartime readiness was a "slippery slope" down which no party should slide for any reason.
"This was the first time Israeli missile defense was pinned by any congressional committee to OCO," the official said at the time. "Funding these enduring requirements in OCO would complicate the funding stability for associated outyear costs and runs contrary to the purpose of OCO."
The White House also expressed opposition to the use of OCO funds for Israel aid in a statement on administration policy published over the summer.
After the bill passed, administration and congressional sources alike expressed confusion as to where this missile defense funding would be coming from– indeed, several were under the impression that the majority of the funds were still coming from OCO. But the office of Rep. Susan Davis (D-California), a member of the Armed Services Committee, confirmed that the issue has been resolved to the administration's satisfaction.
"The $558 increase over the President’s request is no longer in the OCO," said Davis' press secretary, Aaron Hunter. "As the House and Senate negotiated the final bill, known as a conference report, the $558 was moved from the OCO into the base budget. The conference report was passed by the House and Senate and sent to the president."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for the additional funding and praised Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill for supporting it.
"On a bipartisan basis, the Senate and House of Representatives have now adopted funding that would support both [research and development] for and procurement of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 cooperative missile defense systems— key programs that help Israel defend its citizens against rockets and missiles and also advance America’s own missile defense capabilities," the lobby said in a statement, referring to Israel's short, medium and long-range missile defense systems.