WASHINGTON (JTA) — Despite President Barack Obama’s veto threat, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $576 billion defense appropriations bill, including an allocation of $635 million for Israel’s missile defense program.
Thursday’s vote on the bill in the Republican-controlled house passed 282-138, according to Defense News.
Congress routinely adds more funds to Israel’s missile defense programs than Republican and Democratic presidents request, but this is the first time an administration has objected.
The massive $576 billion defense appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year included $268.7 million in research and development funding for U.S.-Israel cooperative missile and rocket defense programs; $25 million in research and development funding for U.S.-Israel energy activities to combat missiles and rockets, including toward producing lasers; $72 million for procurement of the Iron Dome rocket defense system; $150 million for procurement of the David’s Sling missile defense system, and $120 million for procurement of the Arrow-3 missile defense system.
Also included is $42.7 million for U.S.-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised passage of the bill. “As Israel faces dramatically rising security challenges, AIPAC urges inclusion of these vital funds in the final versions of the Fiscal Year 2017 defense authorization and appropriations bills,” the Israel lobby group said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the White House released a six-page statement detailing over a dozen points of opposition to the appropriations measure, including the expanded funding for Israel’s missile defense system, to the tune of $455 million more than requested by the White House.
The Obama administration complained in the statement that the legislation “fails to provide our troops with the resources needed to keep our nation safe.” The statement threatened a veto if the bill survives the reconciliation process with the Senate unaltered, but administration officials would not say if that would apply should some of its objections be resolved, or if it was a blanket veto threat applying to every objection.
The administration “opposes the addition of $455 million” for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs, the statement said, while noting that the bill cuts $324 million from non-Israel related defense systems.
On Wednesday, State Department Spokesman John Kirby said that the administration opposed the funding increase because it “would consume a growing share of a shrinking U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s budget.”
“Additional support for Israel means fewer resources that are available for critical U.S. programs at a time when the missile threat from North Korea, in particular, is increasing,” Kirby said.
AIPAC was first to protest the administration’s statement of opposition. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called the White House’s opposition to the increased funding for Israel “a disturbing departure from the prior practice of this and previous administrations.”
In a time of “escalating threats to Israel from the arsenal of more 150,000 missiles and rockets supplied by Iran and stockpiled by Hezbollah,” Conference of Presidents Chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein wrote in a statement Wednesday, “the decision by the Obama Administration to oppose the overwhelming bipartisan Congressional support for increasing Israel’s ability to defend its people is very troubling.”
Another reason the Obama administration is objecting to the additional funds is that the United States and Israel are considering including missile defense funding in the annual defense assistance package to Israel. Missile defense has until now been funded separately.
The current defense assistance package is $3 billion per year. It stands to reach between $4 and $5 billion, depending on whether missile defense assistance is incorporated.