Israel, Egypt spared as Republicans unveil foreign aid cuts
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Israel, Egypt spared as Republicans unveil foreign aid cuts

Trump wants to slash almost $17 billion from overseas subsidies to help pay for controversial US-Mexico border wall

The US Embassy building in Tel Aviv,  December 28, 2016. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
The US Embassy building in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2016. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US Republican lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled legislation slashing $10 billion from foreign aid, a sharp reduction but not as deep a cut as President Donald Trump wants.

In a flurry of summertime activity, congressional panels in the House and Senate released various spending bills to fund government agencies and departments in 2018. The GOP-led panels concurred with some of Trump’s request, such as his down payment on a US-Mexico border wall, while rejecting others such as a significant reduction in medical research.

At issue are the 12 annual spending bills funding annual agency operations. Republicans controlling Congress have announced plans to rejected Trump’s proposal to cut non-defense programs by more than $50 billion and they’re adding about $30 billion to his request for defense.

Trump wanted to cut almost $17 billion from foreign aid. House Republicans proposed a reduction of $10 billion.

The House foreign aid cuts spared Israel and Egypt and exempted the budget for protecting US embassies overseas. But it slashed US payments to the United Nations by $600 million and cut funding for multilateral organizations focused on topics such as climate change and debt relief by more than 60 percent. Direct US economic aid to poor and unstable nations absorbed a $4.2 billion cut to $22.7 billion.

The David's Sling missile defense-system seen at the Hatzor Air Base, Israel. Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
The David’s Sling missile defense-system seen at the Hatzor Air Base, Israel. Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Washington provides Israel more than $3 billion per year in defense aid. Last December, a $38 billion 10-year defense package to Israel, signed by then-president Barack Obama, became the largest-ever aid agreement between the US and any single country.

The US has either jointly developed or financed all three tiers in Israel’s missile defense program — the Iron Dome short-range missile interceptor, the medium-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow.

Democrats strongly oppose the wall and funding for Trump proposals such as 1,000 additional immigration agents and say additional funding is needed for domestic programs and foreign aid.

“It is targeting people who have lived, work, and pay taxes in this country for years or even decades with no criminal infractions,” said California Democratic Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard. “The trauma that is being inflicted on entire communities throughout our country cannot be overstated.”

House Republicans made good on promises to reject Trump’s proposal to slash medical research at the National Institutes of Health by more than $7 billion.

Meanwhile, the House Homeland Security funding subcommittee also approved a $1.6 billion down payment to construct Trump’s long promised wall along the US-Mexico border, including funding for three segments of wall and fence in Texas and the city of San Diego.

A Border Patrol vehicle sits along the US-Mexico border wall on January 25, 2017, in San Ysidro, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images/AFP)
A Border Patrol vehicle sits along the US-Mexico border wall on January 25, 2017, in San Ysidro, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images/AFP)

House measures funding the departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Interior also advanced, while the counterpart Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled a $6 billion increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs and construction projects at military facilities.

Conflicts were largely avoided this past spring during action on last year’s leftover appropriations business as Congress came together on a $1.1 trillion-plus catchall funding bill for the current fiscal year.

But the appropriations process is ripe for a showdown this fall and a partial shutdown of the government is a real possibility. Ultimately, it is almost certain to require an agreement with Democrats to wrap up the appropriations process, but talks on a bipartisan solution have yet to start in earnest.

For now, the work is grinding on in the House and Senate Appropriations committees. Plans for floor votes have not been set by House leaders, who invariably have difficulty passing most of the non-defense spending bills without Democratic help.

Senate action is even further behind schedule and the principal item of business in September will be to pass a stopgap spending measure to prevent a government shutdown.

US President Donald Trump, center, speaks as US Vice President Mike Pence, left, and US House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, listen during a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., US, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
US President Donald Trump, center, speaks as US Vice President Mike Pence, left, and US House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, listen during a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., US, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Republicans have also cut education, labor, and health programs by $5 billion in releasing a $156 billion measure on Wednesday. In that measure, lawmakers rejected cuts to public broadcasting sought by Trump, though a handful of programs were “zeroed out” in line with Trump’s budget release. Health research at the NIH would receive a $1.1 billion increase however, and special education funding would receive an almost 2 percent increase.

Also Wednesday, the panel in charge of funding the Environmental Protection Agency approved a $528 million cut to the agency’s $8 billion budget for the current year. The cuts, while slammed by Democrats, were far less severe than sought by Trump, who wanted to cut $1.9 billion more.

Support for Trump’s border wall is far from universal even among Republicans from conservative districts. Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei emphasized he supports border security but a wall along the whole border is not practical or realistic.

“The rhetoric coming from those pro-wall people, I get the rhetoric game, but what those folks are talking about doing — listen you don’t even own all the land,” Amodei said.

“It’s like ‘Build that Wall’ — OK I get that. But building that wall the reality,” Amodei said, is much more complicated.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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