Cantor’s proposal — a trial balloon?

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s election cycle digest, Talking Points, says a proposal by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to separate Israel funding from foreign operations was a "trial balloon." It’s an interesting take.

I’ve heard, separately, that it took certain pro-Israel types to, umm, deflate this idea. This kind of confirms it:

Eric Cantor and Foreign Aid: Much Ado about Not So Much

Are Republicans planning major changes in foreign aid budgets, as a number of outlets have reported?  Was the House’s key Jewish Republican floating a political strategy days before the election?  Apparently, the answer is no. 

    • In an interview with JTA, Minority Whip Eric Cantor noted that there is a "dilemma" for some members because aid to Israel wrapped up in the catch-all foreign operations appropriations bill.  Some conservative members favor the assistance to Israel but have misgivings about the other elements of the larger approriations bill.

    • Cantor expressed an interest in looking into whether "some kind of separation in terms of tax dollars going to Israel" might be possible given the extraordinary degree of consensus that exist with respect to that funding in particular.

    • These brief remarks led to a spate of commentary – some of it partisan in nature and much of it based on an overheated assumption that Cantor had a specific plan in mind.

    • There is nothing wrong with contemplating changes in the organization of Congress’s appropriations panels.  The structure of subcommittees has been adjusted in the course of the last decade and Democrats instituted major changes during the years after World War Two.  (More background in this Congressional Research Service report posted on the House Appropriations Committee’s web site.)

    • It’s also possible that some of the Republican frustration is a direct consequence of  Hill Democrats having made the foreign aid budget a ‘wedge issue’ – attacking Republicans who opposed Democrat-drafted bills in 2007 and 2009 based on spending levels or non-Israel provisions, even though most House Democrats had opposed Republican-drafted foreign aid bills for such reasons in the recent past.  See, for example, this vote or this one.

    • Nevertheless, after conferring with top-level staff at the Whip’s office, our best information is that the press hyped Cantor’s somewhat off-the-cuff comments into something more than intended, i.e. a trial balloon.

    • Republicans have pledged to consider reforms in the way Congress does business, but that would require looking at the entire appropriations process, not just aid to Israel.

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