House Passes Foreign Aid Bill with $3 Billion for Israel Intact

The House of Representatives has passed a $13.8 billion foreign aid bill that reflects wide-ranging cuts but leaves aid to Israel and Egypt intact at current levels.

The bill, adopted Thursday by a vote of 297-124, calls for Israel to receive $1.2 billion in economic aid and $1.8 billion in foreign military financing grants.

It also provides $25 million for private organizations working on health, education, rural road construction and other services for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, up $13 million over the previous year.

A vote had been scheduled on an amendment that would have cut 1 percent from foreign aid spending across the board, including earmarked aid to Israel and Egypt. But it was dropped, to the relief of Israel’s supporters, who had lobbied hard against the measure.

The bill cuts nearly $1.3 billion from the Bush administration’s plan for foreign aid and amounts to the lowest percentage ever of this country’s gross national product.

The spare bill reflects mounting concern about the domestic budget crisis. It also demonstrates a post-Cold War shift in priorities from military assistance to humanitarian aid and economic development programs that would help U.S. business.

CONDITIONAL CUT IN JORDAN AID

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), said the plan represents a balance between the moral obligation of the United States “to other creatures on the planet” and the recognition that “our highest obligation is to our own people.”

Obey is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations and the chief architect of the bill. He had planned to offer the 1 percent cut amendment to demonstrate nothing should be exempt from cuts required by the fiscal crisis. But he dropped the idea, calling the subcommittee’s budget “the tightest ever.”

The administration protested the spending level approved as inadequate, saying it would “jeopardize our ability to support the transition to democracy and economic freedom around the world.”

In particular, the White House expressed strong objections to the bill’s elimination of free military assistance to NATO allies.

It also objected to a provision in the bill calling for a cutoff of military aid to Jordan unless the president certifies Amman is cooperating with the peace process and with U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

The bill allows for $150 million of Israel’s military aid to be used for research and development in the United States, while at least $475 million is set aside for procurement in Israel of defense-related goods and services.

The bill also calls on the State Department to report to Congress by March 1, 1993 on the status of the Arab boycott of companies doing business with Israel and on the State Department’s efforts to end the boycott.

NO MENTION OF LOAN GUARANTEES

Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.) lauded the Israel aid package, saying, “Now, more than ever, Israel needs to know of continued U.S. support.”

He said he was disappointed, however, that the bill is “silent on the issue of U.S. loan guarantees” requested by Israel to help absorb immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

“Now that the elections are over, I hope the administration will work swiftly” to put a loan guarantee package together, he said. In fact, high-level administration officials have indicated in recent days it is likely some deal on the guarantees will be made once a new Israeli government is formed.

The American Jewish Congress was one of the pro-Israel groups that had organized grassroots lobbying efforts across the country on the importance of foreign aid and on aid to Israel in particular.

“Israel has been, and remains, the United States’ only democratic dependable ally in a region characterized by political instability, religious ferment and violent extremism,” AJCongress President Robert Lifton wrote in a letter to House members.

“The investment represented by U.S. foreign aid to Israel will strengthen this crucial alliance,” he wrote.

AJCongress also had opposed another controversial amendment, withdrawn at the last moment, to cut the $20 million appropriated for the United Nations Population Fund. That appropriation is strongly opposed by the administration.

The Senate must still approve its own foreign aid bill, which will then be reconciled with the House version.

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