Senate might approve Iron Dome’s replenishment next month

The House approved $1 billion to the defense system back in September, but the Senate is yet to schedule a vote.

 US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate floor at the US Capitol in Washington, US, October 21, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)
US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate floor at the US Capitol in Washington, US, October 21, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)

WASHINGTON – As the US Senate returns to session, one major issue on top of the agenda for the pro-Israel community is the emergency funding for the Iron Dome missile-defense system.

In September, the House of Representatives approved a stand-alone bill to provide Israel with $1 billion for replenishing the anti-missile system. The vote passed with an overwhelming majority: 420 members voted in favor of the bill, and only nine voted against it.

In the Senate, however, Republican Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky blocked several attempts to fast-track the bill by unanimous consent. Paul said that while he supports the Iron Dome, he thinks “it should be paid for.”

“I think the American taxpayer dollars that pay for it should come from money that could go to the Taliban,” said Paul last October. He suggested taking the funds from some $6b. that was designated for the Afghan government. “That money, I think, could be spent on the Taliban, if we do not rescind that money.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) rejected Paul’s amendment.

 US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, in Washington, DC, US September 21, 2021.  (credit: JIM LO SCALZO/POOL VIA REUTERS) US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, in Washington, DC, US September 21, 2021. (credit: JIM LO SCALZO/POOL VIA REUTERS)

“This amendment would slash refugee assistance being used at this very moment to evacuate and resettle US allies and partners who served alongside Americans in the war on terror,” he said.

“The way the Senate procedure works, one senator can block action on any specific legislative item, and Sen. Paul tied the Iron Dome funding to US support in Afghanistan,” explains Julie Rayman, senior director of policy and political affairs at the American Jewish Committee.

“So because he has made that mark in the sand, they can’t move forward until either he changes his mind, or makes a deal with someone, or allows it to go through without his contingency of pulling the money from Afghanistan, or through some other mechanism,” she said.

One of the other ways that the Senate can proceed with the funding is to tie it to a broader spending bill, said Rayman.

“So the plan, as I understand it at this point, is that Iron Dome funding will be included presumably in an omnibus or some other spending package that will be passed before February 18.”

The AJC director said, “I’m very optimistic because there is support. Virtually every senator has said they support Israel receiving funding to replenish the Iron Dome missile-defense system. There’s not someone who is, by virtue of opposing the funding, blocking it. It’s simply that Sen. Paul has tied it to the condition of where the funding should come from.”

She went on to say that even if it won’t pass in February, she is “equally optimistic that the Senate will pass this funding, and the United States will get the funding to Israel for Iron Dome.”

AARON WEINBERG, director of government relations at the Israel Policy Forum, said, “No one really knows when it is going to get a vote.”

According to Senate rules, a bill can be passed a couple of ways, but the easiest way is to do it by unanimous consent, he said.

“But Rand Paul continues to object to it being passed by unanimous consent, which means that the bill needs to get a vote,” said Weinberg. “There are a bazillion things that need to get a vote in the Senate. There are so many nominees, there are so many pieces of legislation, and because it’s such a divided Senate, every single bill has to go through a large number of procedural hurdles in order to get an actual vote,” he explained.

“There are 99 out of 100 senators who all agree to the unanimous consent request. The precedent this could set is that if any one senator objects to a bill, they get scheduled floor time as a reward, which would give every single senator an amount of leverage that would basically shut down the entire Senate,” he said. “If, regardless of whether any given senator agrees with a bill or not, if they knew that they could force a vote on whatever bills they wanted, then there would never be anything that ever got passed by unanimous consent.

“The [Iron Dome] bill is not going to get floor time, so it needs to be attached to a larger package,” Weinberg said, probably “the defense appropriations package.”

B’nai B’rith International director of legislative affairs Eric Fusfield said the next key moment for Iron Dome will come with the February continuing resolution (CR), “which should contain emergency funding [for Iron Dome] – and if it doesn’t, Congressman Josh Gottheimer has said that he will vote against the CR and vote with the Republicans, which would be a standoff moment. So that is one way in which Iron Dome funding could occur.

“Another possible mechanism is that it could be included in the annual defense bill, but it’s not clear that that will happen. And then the third option is that Sen. Paul will remove his objection,” he said.

“I have not seen or heard of any movement from him on this issue. And so I’m not expecting that. I think the most likely outcome is that it will be included in the February CR,” Fusfield predicted. “I do think there will be a showdown of some kind over the February CR, and it might fail. But if I had to guess, it will be included in the CR, particularly with the administration in favor of Iron Dome funding.”

Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America said, “All Senate Democrats continue to support immediate and stand-alone funding for Iron Dome, and have unanimously supported the four Democratic-led attempts to pass such legislation in 2021.

“Democrats also ensured a Plan B for the additional $1b. for Iron Dome, placing it in the 2022 Defense Appropriations Bill, yet the trajectory on both legislative options remains unclear at this time, given Sen. Paul’s hold and Republican obstruction of spending measures in general,” she said.