Amid the recent run of bad news, there is a positive development that deserves our attention: Congress recently passed, and President Biden signed, a $1.5 trillion appropriations bill, which may well be the most pro-Israel legislation ever passed. It includes $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel, $1 billion in supplemental funding for the Iron Dome, $500 million for US-Israel cooperation on defensive missiles like the Arrow and David’s Sling, and $75 million for US-Israel cooperation in areas such as agriculture, health care, homeland security, and anti-tunnel and anti-drone technology. Under the Israel Relations Normalization Act, the US is required to support and expand peace agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Also included is $250 million for security grants for shuls, yeshivos, and other at-risk nonprofit institutions. Our thanks go to Congressman Gregory Meeks, the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Congresswoman Grace Meng, who spearheaded the effort for increased funding for security grants, for their leadership role.
As we appreciate this success, it is important to look at why supplemental funding for the Iron Dome was delayed for close to six months and how a record aid to Israel package was finally passed.
In September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership were looking to pass legislation to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded for nine weeks. It included $1 billion in supplemental funding for the Iron Dome. Republicans were unanimous in their opposition to the Continuing Resolution. The government needed to be funded but they couldn’t prevent a shutdown with Democratic votes alone. Depending on who you believe, this was either because Democrats were determined to pass the funding with Democratic votes alone and refused to negotiate with the Republicans, or because Republicans were determined to prevent any funding from being passed and refused to negotiate with the Democrats.
Democrats hold only 222 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. With Republicans unanimous in their opposition to the Continuing Resolution, every Democratic vote was needed to pass it and to keep the government running. AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and other members of the infamous “Squad” informed the House leadership that they would vote against the Continuing Resolution if it contained funding for the Iron Dome. The “Squad” was ready to shut down the US government and align with the Republicans in sinking President Biden’s agenda to prevent funding for the Iron Dome. The funding was removed, and the Continuing Resolution minus the Iron Dome passed on a 220-211 party line vote.
Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro came up with a separate bill to provide $1 billion in funding for the Iron Dome. The proposal came to the floor of the House just two days after the vote on the Continuing Resolution and passed by a vote of 407-9, an impressive show of bipartisan support for Israel.
The measure then moved to the Senate. Unanimous consent was needed to fast-track consideration of the Iron Dome funding and to allow it to come up for a quick vote. On four separate occasions, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky objected to fast tracking the proposal, essentially blocking it. He has said that funding for the Iron Dome should be part of an omnibus package to fully fund the government.
While the vast majority of Senators and Representatives from both parties supported supplemental funding for the Iron Dome, the opposition of Rand Paul and the “Squad,” together with the inability or refusal of the Democrats and the Republicans to compromise on an overall budget, meant that supplemental funding for the Iron Dome was effectively blocked.
As the March 15 deadline for funding the government approached, moderates from both parties tried to put together an appropriations package that could pass with bipartisan support that would include significant support for Israel. Their work was made more urgent by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and widespread support in Congress and among the public to pass a package of aid to Ukraine.
The final package included $730 billion in domestic spending, 6.7% more than last year, but less than the 16% increase proposed by the Biden administration. The defense allocation of $782 billion is a 5.6% increase over last year and more than the 2% increase proposed by President Biden.
But a problem remained. If the appropriations had been voted on in a single package, and if opponents of the defense spending – which included the aid to Israel – and opponents of the domestic spending had banded together, they could have defeated the package. The spending plan was divided into two separate bills, enabling all of the Representatives to vote against what they opposed, while allowing the overall package to pass. The defense spending was approved by a bipartisan vote of 361-69. The domestic spending was approved by a narrower, but still bipartisan margin of 260-171.
After passing the House, the bipartisan package was easily passed in the Senate and signed by President Biden.
Instead of fighting to the bitter end and emerging with nothing, Congress came up with a package that provided something for everyone and a win for our community and the American people as a whole.
While Speaker Pelosi called it “heartbreaking” to remove some of the Democratic proposals from the overall package, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “the strongest, boldest, and most significant government spending package we’ve seen in a very long time.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the compromise “is not the bill Republicans would have written on our own. But I am proud of the major concessions we have extracted from this all-Democrat government.”
Neither party got everything it wanted. But both parties were able to enact significant portions of their agenda, while leaving the rest of the fight for another day. Substantial assistance will be provided to Ukraine. Supplemental funding for the Iron Dome was finally passed as part of a record program of aid to Israel. There will be record security funding for our community institutions, and the American people have a real budget.
I have frequently stressed the importance of bipartisan support for Israel. What we have learned from the passage of the recent spending package is that bipartisan cooperation between members of Congress on seemingly unrelated issues is also crucial to supporting Israel. The stubborn persistence of both parties almost allowed extremists to sink the Iron Dome. Bipartisan cooperation enabled the passage of a spending package that addresses most of the concerns of both parties while providing record security funding for Israel and our community institutions.
By Manny Behar