WASHINGTON (JTA) — The vast majority of Republican freshmen in the U.S. Senate have signed on to a letter committing to current levels of defense assistance to Israel.
Among the 13 freshmen, 11 have signed the letter initiated by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to the party’s Senate leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
"As we work to reduce wasteful government spending, we recognize that providing for the national defense is a constitutional responsibility of the federal government,” said the letter, first reported Thursday by Politico. “Therefore, we must continue to prioritize the safety of our nation and the security of our allies, including Israel.”
A similar letter from U.S. House of Representatives’ GOP freshmen in February garnered 65 signatures in a class of 87. The appeals — and the support they garnered — is significant because it answers questions that pro-Israel groups had about the 2011 class of GOP freshmen, many of them spurred to office by the Tea Party movement, which has cost cutting as its central focus.
Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, visited Israel within weeks of his election in November.
The two freshmen who did not sign also are favorites of the Tea Party. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called openly for cutting aid to Israel and for the bulk of foreign aid funding. The other freshman not to sign is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
The letter is a sign that President Obama’s proposal to maintain levels of funding for Israel, currently at about $3 billion annually, will be untouched.