Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congress Finally Passes FY '09 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Including Foreign Aid

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congress Finally Passes FY '09 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Including Foreign Aid

Article excerpt

As reported in the December 2008 issue of the Washington Report, rather than passing most FY '09 appropriations bills last year, Congress in September passed a "continuing resolution" continuing appropriations for FY '09 at the previous year's level through March 1, 2009. Finally, after almost five months, Congress in March passed a new, "omnibus" bill, H.R. 1105, for the remainder of FY '09 (which ends Sept. 30 of this year).

The aid appropriations in the bill, either earmarked or mentioned in the bill's accompanying Explanatory Report are as follows:

* Israel: no economic aid, $2.38 billion in military aid plus the $170 million in the FY '08 supplemental appropriations, for a total of $2.55 billion, plus $30 million for "refugee assistance";

* West Bank and Gaza: "not more than" $75 million in economic aid;

* Egypt: $200 million in economic aid and $1.3 billion in military aid;

* Jordan: $363.547 million in economic aid and $235 million in military aid;

* Lebanon: $67.5 million in economic aid, of which $10 million is for scholarships at American educational institutions, and $58.2 million in military aid;

* Tunisia: $1.5 million in economic aid and $12 million in military aid;

* Yemen: $21 million in economic aid.

* In addition, there is $30 million for the Near East Regional Democracy program.

Israel's $2.55 billion in military aid is consistent with the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel that the U.S. will give Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next 10 years. As usual, there is a separate provision saying that 26.3 percent, or $670.65 million, of Israel's military aid can be spent in Israel. Israel is the only recipient of American foreign aid that is not required to spend all its military aid in the U.S.

H.R. 1105 was a negotiated product of House and Senate appropriators-in effect a "conference report." After the House passed it on Feb. 25, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that if the Senate added amendments, she would not bring it to the House floor again, thereby forcing the government to continue operating at the FY 'funding level. Nevertheless, several Republican senators tried to derail the bill by adding amendments.

Of interest to the Middle East were Amendments 629, 630, and 631, all offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The first would prohibit funds from being used to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the U.S.; the second would require a report on countering smuggling efforts into Gaza; and Kyl's third amendment would require the secretary of state to certify that no reconstruction funds for Gaza will be diverted to Hamas. Kyl withdrew his first amendment, and all the other amendments, along with Kyl's remaining two, were defeated. The Senate passed the bill on March 10, and President Barack Obama signed it the following day.

Proposed Gaza Recovery Funds Get Mixed Congressional Reception

At the March 2 donors conference to raise funds for Gaza recovery, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans to provide $900 million for Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Of this, only $300 million is proposed for Gaza recovery. Of the remainder, $200 million is proposed for PA budget support to pay wages, and $400 million to support reform and development in the West Bank. A State Department spokesman emphasized that none of the money for Gaza would go to Hamas. It is to go through USAID "in coordination with U.N. agencies, international organizations and USAID grantees, and through the Department of State for U.N. agencies, ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], and other humanitarian organizations."

The funds must be approved by Congress, and initial congressional reactions were mixed. Stalwart Israel supporters Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Eric Cantor (R-VA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mike Pence (R-IN) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who apparently see the Middle East as a zero-sum game (if it's good for the Arabs it must be bad for Israel), reflexively announced their opposition. …

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