US stop-gap budget missing pledged increases for Israel

Aid will be reevaluated in 3 months when current measure expires; budget does not include promised funding for Iron Dome missile defense project.

Obama smiles 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama smiles 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama signed a stop-gap budget measure Wednesday for the next three months, that does not include hundreds of millions of dollars for Israeli defense that he pledged earlier in the year.
The bill does not provide $205 million in what would have been first-time American funds for the short-range Iron Dome missile defense project, nor does it contain the increases in medium- and long-range missile defense for 2011 approved earlier in the year by the House of Representatives.
RELATED:Democrats up in arms over hints of reduced aid for Israel
In addition, the bill keeps general military aid for Israel at the same level as 2010 – as it does for almost all other funding – even though it was supposed to increase from $2.775 billion to $3b., according to a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the US and Israel.
Once this temporary measure – passed to keep the government from shutting down – expires in March, Congress will have a chance to restore that funding. The White House indicated it would push for its commitments to Israel to be filled at that time.
“The administration will continue to work with the Congress to enact the president’s FY 2011 request going forward, including full support for requested assistance programs for Israel,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.
“The administration had made progress in House and Senate bills on getting the Iron Dome project funded as well as full funding for Israel military assistance,” the official said. “Unfortunately, those items were dropped, along with other administration priorities, when the Senate couldn’t get past procedural hurdles.”
Several Republicans said that they expected Israel funds to be considered favorably when the trimmed-down measure that was passed by the Senate on Tuesday and signed by Obama on Wednesday ends in March.
But Democrats lashed out at the GOP for including the aid to Israel in demands to hold spending at 2010 levels for now.
“It is unfortunate that Senate Republicans’ decision to block an Omnibus funding bill or year-long Continuing Resolution means our ally Israel is left wondering whether the United States will meet our commitment under the MOU,” Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee on foreign operations appropriations, told the Post, referring to two other bills backed by Democrats that would have given Israel the additional funds.
“The incoming Republican leadership has sent disturbing signals about the future of aid to Israel,” California Democrat Henry Waxman said, highlighting the MOU and Iron Dome funding.
“Both programs are now at risk for the coming year. All who support US aid to Israel should have reason to be concerned.”
But Republicans countered that Democrats in both the Senate and House hadapproved the measure and charged they were playing politics with a bill that had bipartisan support.
“They all voted for this bill. I would take this with a grain of salt,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
He stressed that the bill “isn’t a declaration of policy” and that senators would reconsider all the measures in March, including maintaining their strong support of Israel aid.
“It doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to happen,” he said.
“It’s just a temporary measure.”
Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the GOP remained highly committed to Israel but wanted to have the room to consider whether other foreign aid allocations made sense.
“Republicans will not use security assistance to Israel as a political tool to excuse separate, unsubstantiated increases in US development aid across the board,” she said. “Security assistance to Israel advances our national security priorities, and the return on our investment in this critical US ally is clear, unlike many other of our overseas programs and operations.”
“Senate Republicans and Democrats will work together to ensure that assistance to Israel meets the Memorandum of Understanding and ensure that security needs are met next year,” said a GOP Senate staffer, noting that the full MOU amount for 2011 could be given to Israel retroactively.
He added that Republicans wanted to get through a bill with as little extra spending beyond 2010 as possible for a short amount of time so that the party would have more leverage on the budget once GOP members took over the US House and bolstered their numbers in the Senate in January.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who worked with McConnell on the details of the version of the budget bill that was signed into law Wednesday, referred questions to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Requests for comment by the chairman of the committee, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), went unanswered.
Obama had touted the special funding he requested for the Iron Dome in May and was backed by congressional Democrats in a high-profile fast-track effort to highlight their commitment to the project.