House calls to slash billions from US foreign aid

Money for UN would be cut, but not for Israel; frustration of committee Republicans at UN’s treatment of Israel felt in move on UN funding.

Howard Berman 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Howard Berman 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – The House Foreign Affairs Committee cut billions of dollars from the foreign aid requested by the White House, including funding for the UN, in a vote late on Thursday night.
The vote on foreign operations, which passed along party lines 23-20, maintains funding for Israel at its current level of upwards of $3 billion per year, in keeping with a 10-year memorandum of understanding between the two countries.
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In contrast, US President Barack Obama’s total request of approximately $50b. was slashed by $6.4b., including 25 percent of the budget allocated for international organizations, among them the UN.
The frustration of committee Republicans at the UN’s treatment of Israel could be seen in the move on UN funding, among other concerns about the international body, as well as in the passage of an amendment prohibiting American aid to any country that votes against the United States at the UN more than 50% of the time.
Democratic congressmen also took issue with many countries’ treatment of Israel in the international arena, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (DCalifornia) shepherding through a provision that would make permanent the anti-Arab boycott law currently in place, which bans participation in the boycott targeting Israel.
Still, in his opening remarks before the committee began its marathon two-day review of the bill on Wednesday, Berman expressed objections to the low level of funding and certain provisions in the legislation.
“As our nation’s top military leaders have said repeatedly, diplomacy and development – along with defense – are the key pillars of our national security strategy,” he said. “By shortchanging two of the three legs of that national security stool, we undermine our ability to respond to crises, promote stability and pursue a wide range of US interests around the world.”
Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen (R-Florida), in contrast, made the case for the fiscal dimensions of the bill ahead of Tuesday’s debate.
“This legislation is based on the bipartisan, carefully negotiated agreement for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget that was signed into law earlier this year,” she said, adding that hewing to that level “will result in billions of dollars in savings.”
She highlighted the provisions devoted to Israel and the Middle East.
“Among the most important provisions in the sections regarding US security assistance is the reaffirmation of our unwavering support for our ally Israel, especially by ensuring that its qualitative military edge will remain robust and that our close relationship and cooperation on missile defense will continue,” she said.
“This bill also conditions US assistance to Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority,” she continued.
“Basically, if Hamas, Hezbollah, other foreign terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups hold policy positions in their respective governments, they are not to receive US assistance.”
She noted that the president would have a waiver authority if he felt allocation of those funds was necessary to protect US national security. But she stressed, “Our goal is to promote democratic governments in these countries and ensure that US taxpayers are not subsidizing groups that seek to undermine US policies, interests and allies.”
Despite the successful vote, the bill approved by the committee is very unlikely to be passed into law in a similar form. Previous bills outlining foreign operations and aid policy over recent years have failed to make it through Congress, let along reach the president’s desk.
A separate bill actually allocating the specific dollar amounts, which goes through a different committee, is what Congress ultimately must pass to facilitate budget disbursements.
This bill will first need to be approved by the full House, where there’s a Republican majority, and then by the Senate, which Democrats control. Even with House approval, Senate Democrats are likely to overhaul the whole bill, making for two different versions that the sides would have difficulty reconciling in order to send to the White House.