A bipartisan group of 36 US senators that includes Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, is calling on Congress to add $320 million for Israeli missile defense to the Senate version of a defense appropriations bill.
Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, are leading the effort, which would bring the Senate version in line with one from the House of Representatives. Kaine, D-Virginia, is among the 36 senators — 19 Republicans and 17 Democrats — who have signed on, The Hill reported Tuesday.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto legislation with that level of funding.
In a letter to the Armed Services Committee chairmen and obtained by The Hill, the senators wrote: “Amid growing rocket and missile threats in the Middle East, it is prudent for the United States and Israel to advance and accelerate bilateral cooperation on missile defense technologies.”
They added: “As you know, investments over the years in US-Israeli missile defense programs have saved the lives of countless civilians from indiscriminate rocket and missile attacks.”
The proposed increase in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act would go toward research and development on three jointly-developed US-Israeli missile defense programs: Iron Dome, Arrow 3 and David’s Sling, as well as purchases of additional Iron Dome systems.
The House bill currently calls for some $600.7 million “for research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) and procurement of the systems,” The Hill reported, while the current draft of the Senate bill approves just $280.8 million, a gap the group of senators led by Gillibrand and Kirk hope to fill.
In June, when the House passed its appropriations measure, the White House released a six-page statement detailing over a dozen points of opposition, including the expanded funding for Israel’s missile defense system, to the tune of $455 million more than requested by the White House.
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.