Israel aid boost on hold as budget paralysis continues
12/27/2010 - 16:56
James Besser

JTA is reporting that U.S. military aid to Israel for 2011, including extra funding for missile defense, is being delayed “following the Obama's administration's difficulty in passing the annual 2011 budget, which forced the president to sign a presidential order extending the current budget through March.”

No doubt President Obama's detractors in the Jewish community will paint this as more proof of his hostility to the Jewish state.

In fact, the aid delay is just one more symptom of the bipartisan budget breakdown that will have huge implications for just about every priority of the Jewish community, starting with but not limited to Israel.

Congress and the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans, weren't able to come to an agreement on the budget for the fiscal year; as a result, lawmakers passed a stopgap continuing resolution early in the month that will allow the government to continue functioning – but at last year's spending levels.

That means spending increases already approved – including money for Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket program, which the Obama administration and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers support -- will be held up until at least March.

And that assumes that an even more bitterly divided new Congress, driven by the Tea Party-fanned focus on cutting spending, can overcome the costly budget paralysis.

This is the real danger to Israel's $3 billion-plus in military aid.

Support for that aid is broad and bipartisan; opponents of Israel's aid, the biggest chunk in the U.S. aid program, are few, without influence.

But as the appropriations and budget process becomes even more dysfunctional, important programs of all kinds will likely get caught in the partisan crossfire and in the paralysis caused when partisanship trumps the need to find compromise solutions.

And the longer Congress and the administration fail to develop comprehensive, well-thought-out tax and spending plans, the bloodier and more indiscriminate the inevitable day of reckoning will be.

That brings me back to something I've written about a lot lately: the near impossibility of making serious progress in deficit reduction while keeping the huge military budget sacrosanct.

On Saturday the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof addressed one aspect of the issue I hadn't considered: the corresponding decline in funding for diplomacy.“

He writes: “We have a billionaire military and a pauper diplomacy. The U.S. military now has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service — and that’s preposterous.”

Bloated military spending, along with continuing tax cuts, guarantee that just about every other program, foreign and domestic, will be increasingly vulnerable to big cuts in the years ahead.

As I wrote recently, I don't think aid to Israel is in immediate jeopardy. But every year that goes by without some budgetary common sense will increase the likelihood aid will eventually come under the knife.

And by that time, cuts in Israel aid could be the least of our problems.

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Not quite. (To begin with, JTA could do better than reprint an incomplete and inaccurate article from Globes on the US budget situation, when JTA has perfectly capable reporters here in Washington -- and you could do better than relying on the reprint ...) Once the President signs the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 -- which has been cleared for the White House -- $205 million from funds appropriated in the continuing appropriation bill for defense-wide research and development could be provided to Israel for the Iron Dome project. You could ask the Pentagon if this is, or is not, correct. If the President could, but will not, make this allocation -- well, that **would be** a story worth writing. It is possible, of course, that since a full-year defense appropriations act has not been enacted, it will not be possible to provide the whole amount immediately. What is ironic is that what is holding up the full amount is the failure of Congress to pass a defense appropriation bill on time -- in time of war. (You know, the same defense appropriation bill you think should be cut to solve our fiscal problems.) You use this kerfluffle as a reason expound on the need to raise taxes and cut defense. But why do you insist that the $3 billion for Israel is endangered by the "big picture" you see developing? Where is the evidence at all for your assertion that a failure to raise taxes or cut the defense budget will endanger aid to Israel? There is no such evidence. To the contrary, what might be endanged is the **rest** of the foreign aid budget -- the part that uses aid to Israel as its engine. That's why there were gasps when Eric Cantor broached the idea of separating aid from Israel (popular) from general development aid (unpopular). Obviously, the aid to Israel would sail through; the rest of the aid would have a problem. (AIPAC also opposed the idea -- it is in the "coalition" business and does not want unnecessarily to alienate its friends in the pro-foreign-aid community.) Finally, contrary to your assertion -- Kristof's actually -- the budget of the Department of State has increased significantly, in real terms, in recent years. You could look it up. While you're at it, perhaps you could ask State to explain why the "tiny" foreign service has about as many "general officer equivalents" (Senior Foreign Service officers) as the active U.S. military has generals and admirals? Congress is perhaps less willing to be even more generous to State because it is so top-heavy -- and doesn't seem to produce too much in the way of results.

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