US Senate moves to fully fund Israel aid

John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) defends move as important to advancing moderation in the Middle East.

US senate 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
US senate 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The US Senate included a measure to restore full funding for foreign aid to the budget it approved late Thursday, increasing chances that the pool of money including assistance for Israel wouldn't be cut. The $3.5 trillion document passed by the Senate includes a $4 billion boost to the foreign operations appropriation, bringing it up to the $53.8b. sought by President Barack Obama. Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-sponsor of the amendment, defended the move as important to advancing moderation in the Middle East. "The reality is that we are just not doing enough today to invest in the vital components of both diplomacy and development," Kerry said on the Senate floor, referencing his recent trip to Israel, Egypt, Syria and other regional countries. "I saw firsthand the degree to which people we support in many ways are struggling to push back against enormous spending by Iran and other actors who seek to destabilize the region." The US House of Representatives, however, only approved $48.5b. for international assistance in its version of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget earlier this week, so the differences will have to be addressed in conference between the two committees, negotiations of which are expected to pick up in earnest when Congress returns from its recess later in the month. The Senate move makes it much more likely Obama's foreign aid request will be fully funded. In the event that it isn't, it is yet to be determined which foreign aid programs would be affected, meaning Israel could still receive the total $2.77b. it is due under a long-term agreement worked out under the Bush administration. Also on Capitol Hill on Thursday, a coalition of rabbis and Jewish community activists were joined by members of Congress at the presentation of a petition with thousands of signatures calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The petition urges the government to take legislative action rather than conduct wide-scale raids on illegal immigrants, a practice that began to occur with increasing frequency once former president George W. Bush's attempt at overhauling immigration policy failed with no resolution on how to handle the millions of foreigners without work permits in America. The Obama administration has been reviewing the issue ahead of unveiling a new policy on the contentious subject. A gathering of rabbis representing Judaism's four major branches as well as Jewish immigration activists, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, one of America's oldest immigrant aid groups, was in Washington to present the petitions, signed by 3,600 people, ahead of Pessah. Rabbi Morris Allen of the Conservative Beth Jacob Congregation in Minneapolis-Saint Paul linked their effort, dubbed "Progress by Passover," to the tenets of the holiday at the Thursday event. "Our liberation [from Egypt] did not lead us to self-pride or gloating or forgetfulness of our roots," Allen said. "Rather we internalized the message of never forgetting those on the margins - those new migrant workers, those new people in need of liberation." The coalition was welcomed by two Jewish members of Congress, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), who said they would urge immigration reform that would act humanely toward the 12 million undocumented workers in America.