Congress tries to seal $225m Israel aid package

In bipartisan effort, Democratic and Republican lawmakers scramble to secure additional funding for Iron Dome

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington (photo credit: AP/File)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington (photo credit: AP/File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic and Republican members of Congress scrambled Tuesday to seal a $225 million boost to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system before they break this week for a monthlong recess.

As the Gaza war escalates, Israel is proving to be among the few subjects uniting lawmakers. Members of both parties have introduced legislation backing the Jewish state, condemning the Palestinian terror group Hamas and seeking a tougher Iran policy. Iron Dome is the priority, but the House and Senate are at odds over process.

No money for Israel is included in a larger House spending bill focused on border security, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the Appropriations Committee chairman, said Tuesday. He said military support for Israel would be addressed separately, and senior congressional aides said that could happen this week.

The GOP-led House’s approach is at odds with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which wants the Iron Dome money approved with border security and wildfire assistance in a single package before lawmakers take their break on Thursday or Friday.

Israel escalated its operations against Hamas on Tuesday as the conflict entered its fourth week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “prolonged” campaign aimed at stemming Gazan rocket fire and locating and destroying cross-border attack tunnels.

Amid a daily barrage of Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns, Iron Dome has been credited with knocking hundreds out of the sky. Even as the Obama administration presses for a ceasefire, it has backed Israel’s request to replenish its missile defense stockpiles while it is fighting, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking Congress to approve the measure.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he supported Hagel’s request because Iron Dome “has afforded Israel some protection from indiscriminate rockets.”

McConnell has proposed a separate measure, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled he would be open to it.

But McConnell, continuing a line of Republican criticism of the Obama administration, opposed efforts that he said would impose a ceasefire on Israel that doesn’t meet its military objectives and rewards Hamas for a “campaign of terror.”

“I support any effort which brings this campaign to an end in a manner that increases Israel’s security,” McConnell said Tuesday. “That means that Hamas cannot be left with a large stockpile of missiles and rockets, cannot be left with infiltration tunnels — they must be destroyed. Hamas cannot be allowed to aggressively rest, refit and build up weapons stockpiles.”

House Republican aides said the Senate could deal with the Iron Dome funding as a freestanding bill that the House would easily approve. Reid could move as early as Wednesday to combine Iron Dome money with funds to combat Western wildfires.

There will be “strong bipartisan support for Iron Dome. There always has been in situation like this,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

“Let’s stop playing games,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., added. “It’s a life or death struggle Israel faces.”

The White House criticized Republicans for not including the new funding in the bigger spending bill.

“We’re disappointed,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.


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