ON MAY 15 the House passed, under suspension of the rules (a procedure designed to be used for routine, administrative, or non-controversial measures), H.R. 5916. Introduced on April 29 with four co-sponsors by House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) chair Howard Berman (D-CA), the nominal purpose of the bill is "to reform the administration of the Arms Export Control Act." Despite its innocuous title, however, Title II (of four) would constitute a significant advancement of the U.S.-Israel military relationship, and would codify assuring Israel's qualitative military edge (QME) over potential military threats. "Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist," Berman had told the Jewish weekly The Forward in April (see July "Other Voices" supplement).
Among other things, Section 201 would require the president to continually assess "the extent to which Israel possesses a qualitative military edge over military threats," and would require any proposed sale of arms to other Middle East countries to be conditioned on a certification that the sale does not adversely affect Israel's QME. Section 203 would extend for two years a provision of the 2005 Defense Appropriations Act that the president may transfer to Israel, "in exchange for concessions to be negotiated by the secretary of defense," armor, artillery, automatic weapons ammunition, missiles, and other munitions deemed to be "obsolete or surplus," or are in the Defense Department inventory, or are "intended for use as reserve stocks for Israel," or located in stockpile in Israel.
Section 204 authorizes implementation of last year's Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel regarding eliminating economic aid and increasing military grants to Israel (see March 2008 Washington Report for details). Specifically, it authorizes FY '09 military aid of the amount specified for FY '08 ($2.38 billion), plus $150 million. It also says that, of this amount, "not less than" $670.65 million may be spent in Israel.
The bill was forwarded to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where it rests.
Congress Passes Another Unrestricted War Supplemental Bill
Once again, a "supplemental" appropriations measure to fund the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan concerned Congress for much of May and into June. In April, President George W. Bush requested a $108 billion supplemental war-funding bill for FY '08, with no added domestic spending and no curtailing of his war-making powers. Both houses of Congress ignored his threat to veto any bill that exceeded his request.
The Senate restored $162 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the House, the supplemental took the form of three amendments tacked on to H.R. 2642, the appropriations bill for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The first amendment would appropriate $162.5 billion to fund the wars, including a so-called bridge fund for FY '09 to give the new president money for a few months. The second amendment was a set of policy restrictions, including requiring troop redeployment from Iraq to begin within 30 days, with a goal of having all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by December 2009, and an anti-torture provision. The third amendment included expanded benefits for returning veterans, plus a variety of domestic and foreign spending, including about $1 billion for the Middle East (see below). This part also included bridge funds for FY '09. On May 15 the first amendment failed, because 131 Republicans voted "present" (i.e., abstained). The second and third amendments passed easily.
The Senate took up the measure on May 22, first adopting, by a vote of 75-22, an amendment by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that stripped out the House text and inserted a substitute Senate text that did not include the House version's policy restrictions (including mandatory troop withdrawal). The Senate then adopted, by a vote of 70-26, a separate amendment restoring $162 billion to fund the wars, including FY '09 bridge funds. …