‘Congress ready to increase Israel defense funding’

jpost.com

US legislators set to more than make up for White House cuts to missile defense spending, Capitol Hill sources tell the ‘Post’; if Israel asks for more money, “without a doubt they would get it,” Congressional aid says.

Congress is set to significantly increase funding for Israeli missile defense to more than make up for White House cuts to the program, Capitol Hill sources told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.

The 2013 budget proposal unveiled by US President Barack Obama Monday trims $6 million in defense spending from the Arrow and David’s Sling programs, which is separate from the record $3.1 billion in Israeli military assistance called for under the State Department budget.

The cut to the US-Israel cooperative programs has provoked criticism from some quarters.

“For an administration that tried to claim that it’s the best for Israel’s security, cutting critical funds for missile defense at a time when the threat from Iran has never been greater is extremely dangerous, worrisome and reckless,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

But Democrats on Capitol Hill defended the reduced missile defense funding as part of the Obama administration’s effort to rein in overall spending by the Pentagon, whose budget would be slashed by $487 billion across 10 years under Obama’s plan.

“It has nothing to do with the Israeli missile defense program and everything to do with curbing the defense budget in every way possible,” said one aide to a Democratic member on the House defense appropriations subcommittee.

He said Congress would be increasing the missile defense aid once it reviews the budget and determines its own funding levels. The administration budget serves as a blueprint, but it is Congress’s version that is voted on and signed into law.

“Funding for US-Israel missile defense will continue to rise despite the budget request,” he said.

Though the administration’s request for missile defense monies has dropped somewhat in recent years – from $121.7m. in 2011 to $106.1m. in 2012 to 2013’s $99.8m. – during each of those cycles, Congress has consistently increased the final allocation.

The aide predicted the 2013 figure would be in the neighborhood of the record $235.6m. slated for 2012, meaning Congress would be adding at least $100 million to the current figure.

Traditionally, Israel has waited to see the president’s budget request before seeking additional funds on Capitol Hill. Another Congressional aide said that if the Israelis once again asks members for more missile defense funding, “without a doubt they would get it.”

A former Department of Defense official said Obama’s allocation should be seen as part of the larger process, in which all US missile defense spending was cut and even Pentagon staples like the aircraft program faced large reductions.

“Given the budgeting situation, this also indicates support [for Israel], though it’s not exactly the same support as last year,” he said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta came before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday to defend the scope of the cuts, though he didn’t address missile defense directly.

“You cannot take half a trillion dollars out of the defense budget and not incur risks,” he acknowledged. “We believe they are acceptable risks.”

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, who testified alongside Panetta at the hearing, urged the Senate to drop consideration of an amendment that would cut off aid to Egypt and break the country’s military ties because of Cairo’s current detention of American NGO workers.

“My military judgment is that would be a mistake,” said Dempsey, who recently met with Egyptian military officials to convince them to release the American citizens.

“I spent about a day and a half in conversation with them, encouraging them in the strongest possible terms to resolve this so that our military-to-military relationship could continue,” Dempsey reported. “I am convinced that potentially they were underestimating the impact of this on our relationship. When I left there, there was no doubt that they understood the seriousness of it.”

Obama’s budget proposal maintains the 2012 funding levels for Egyptian aid, comprised of $1.3m. in military assistance and $250m. in economic assistance. In addition, a new $770m. fund for Arab Spring countries could also possibly include payments to Egypt.

The budget would also allocate $370m. in economic assistance and $70m. in law enforcement training to the Palestinian Authority, though the Fatah and Hamas just entered into a power-sharing plan. Hamas is a US-designated terrorist organization and American laws bar transferring money to such entities.

Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, said Congress would follow the same limits on disbursements as laid out this past year when similar issues arose.

“In the FY 2012 appropriations bill we laid out common sense, bipartisan conditions that prepared for, and anticipated, the unknown,” she told the Post. “Whether it is the Palestinian Authority or Egypt, this Congress has been clear that there are limitations on how we spend our foreign aid.

“The President’s budget is a blueprint for what the administration wants out of the Congress. This is not what will be enacted into law.”

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