Move slashing Palestinian funding hitches ride on massive US spending bill

Move slashing Palestinian funding hitches ride on massive US spending bill

Taylor Force Act, targeting payouts to jailed terrorists, likely to pass this week as part of $1.3 trillion omnibus bill

(L-R) Sen. Angus King (I-ME), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) place their hands over their hearts during the playing of the national anthem during a Congressional Gold Medal award ceremony for the Office of Strategic Services at the US Capitol March 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
(L-R) Sen. Angus King (I-ME), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) place their hands over their hearts during the playing of the national anthem during a Congressional Gold Medal award ceremony for the Office of Strategic Services at the US Capitol March 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The Taylor Force Act, which would slash funding to the Palestinians until Ramallah stops payments to terrorists or their families, will likely pass this week as part of a massive US government spending bill.

The act was included in the massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that must pass by Friday night. The bill, which congressional leaders agreed to Wednesday night, is laden with unrelated legislative measures, known as riders.

The inclusion of the measure in the omnibus spending bill was first reported on by Jewish Insider earlier Wednesday.

Taylor Force was an American who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv in 2016. The act would cut US funding to the Palestinians by the amount paid out by the Palestine Liberation Organization to Palestinians jailed for terror offenses or their families in the cases of assailants killed during attacks.

Palestinian officials say that only a small portion of the targeted money goes to violent attackers, and that much of the money serves as a welfare program for Palestinians who are imprisoned by Israel, many without charges.

US Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after a closed briefing by Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford at the Capitol on April 7, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a key backer of the bill, told the Jewish Insider that he secured US House of Representatives support for the Taylor Force bill by preserving some humanitarian exemptions that will allow up to $5 million for wastewater treatment and up to $500,000 for vaccinations for children.

Leading the demand for the humanitarian funding to remain in place was New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and one of the staunchest defenders of Israel in the House.

Graham said late Wednesday that the bill was one of the most important pieces of legislation he’s ever worked on.

“Taylor was an American hero who was brutally murdered at the hands of terrorists,” Graham said in a statement. “Yet instead of condemning this horrific attack – and so many others like it – the Palestinian Authority pays monetary rewards to terrorists and their families. These rewards for terrorist attacks are inconsistent with American values. They are inconsistent with decency, and they are certainly inconsistent with peace.”

Israel’s government has publicly favored the Taylor Force Act, but Israeli security officials are said to privately fear that a cut in funding to the Palestinians could spark unrest

The State Department has for years cut funds to the Palestinians commensurate with its payment to killers and their families, although it has not revealed its formula. US funding for the Palestinians currently stands at about $260 million a year. None of the money targeted goes directly to the Palestinian Authority, instead funding programs run by NGOs that assist Palestinians.

Palestinian demonstrators burn an effigy depicting US President Donald Trump during a protest against US aid cuts, outside the United Nations’ offices at the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on February 11, 2018. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Unaffected is between $50 and $100 million dollars that annually goes to Palestinian security forces, which partner with Israel to stop terrorism in the West Bank.

The Trump administration has frozen more than half of its funding for UNRWA, the UN agency that administers assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. UNRWA officials say the cuts could precipitate a crisis among Palestinians throughout the Middle East.

Congressional leaders all but finalized the sweeping budget bill Wednesday, that substantially boosts military and domestic spending but leaves behind young immigrant “Dreamers,” deprives President Donald Trump some of his border wall money and takes only incremental steps to address gun violence.

As negotiators stumbled toward an end-of-the-week deadline to fund the government or face a federal shutdown, House Speaker Paul Ryan dashed to the White House amid concerns Trump’s support was wavering. The White House later said the president backed the legislation, even as some conservative Republicans balked at the size of the spending increases and the rush to pass the bill.

Talks continued into Wednesday evening, with no final version yet made public.

Leaders still hoped to start voting as soon as Thursday. But a stopgap measure may be needed to ensure federal offices aren’t hit with a partial shutdown at midnight Friday when funding for the government expires.

File: Vanderbilt graduate student Taylor Force was killed Tuesday, March 9, 2016 in a terror attack in Tel Aviv- Jaffa. (Facebook)

Negotiators have been working for days — and nights — on details of the bill, which is widely viewed as the last major piece of legislation likely to move through Congress in this election year. Lawmakers in both parties sought to attach their top priorities.

Two of the biggest remaining issues had been border wall funds and a legislative response to gun violence after the clamor for action following recent school shootings, including in Parkland, Florida.

On guns, leaders tentatively agreed to tuck in bipartisan provisions to bolster school safety funds and improve compliance with the criminal background check system for firearm purchases. They were also discussing allowing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do research on gun safety, an idea Democrats pushed.

But there was no resolution for Dreamers, the young immigrants who have been living in the United States illegally since childhood, but whose deportation protections are being challenged in court after Trump tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Democrats temporarily shut down the government earlier this year as they fought for that protection. But the issue only rose to a discussion item when Trump made a late-hour push for a deal in exchange for $25 billion in border wall funds.

Instead, Trump is now poised to win $1.6 billion for barriers along the border, but none of it for the new prototypes he recently visited in California. The money would fund about 33 miles of new construction in the San Diego area and the repair of about 60 miles of existing segments, some that double as levees, along the Rio Grande in Texas.

This October 26, 2017 photo shows prototypes of border walls in San Diego. (AP Photo/Elliott Spagat, File)

In one win for immigrant advocates, negotiators rejected Trump’s plans to hire hundreds of new Border Patrol and immigration enforcement agents.

The emerging plan removes a much-debated earmark protecting money for a rail tunnel under the Hudson River. The item was a top priority of Trump’s most powerful Democratic rival, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, but Trump vowed to veto the bill over the earmark. Under the legislation, the project would remain eligible for funding, however, and a Schumer aide said it was likely to win well more than half of the $900 million sought for the project this year.

A major provision of the bill would give Trump a huge budget increase for the military, while Democrats would cement wins on infrastructure and other domestic programs that they failed to get under President Barack Obama.

That largesse has drawn opposition from some fiscal conservatives and could makes passage a potentially tricky process.

Last month, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul triggered a brief government shutdown over his objections to the deficit spending. On Wednesday, he tweeted his opposition to the emerging legislation.

“It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni … wait, what?” Paul tweeted.

Most essential was support from Trump, who has been known to threaten to veto legislation even when his team is involved in the negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, speaks with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., right, behind closed doors following a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the Office of Strategic Services in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Word of Trump’s discontent sent Ryan to the White House, where he was invited to a face-to-face with the president, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the phone.

White House aides said the president’s support was never in doubt, but one senior White House official said the president was concerned that details of the package weren’t being presented as well as they could be, both to members of Congress and the public.

The group discussed how they could better sell the package, said the official who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

“The president and the leaders discussed their support for the bill,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adding that it would fund Trump priorities such as wall construction, add money to combat the opioid crisis and provide new infrastructure spending.

Both parties touted $4.6 billion in total funding to fight the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, a $3 billion increase. More than $2 billion would go to strengthen school safety through grants for training, security measures and treatment for the mentally ill. Medical research at the National Institutes of Health, a longstanding bipartisan priority, would receive a record $3 billion increase to $37 billion.

Community development block grants, which are flexible funds that are enormously popular with mayors and other local officials, would receive a huge $2.4 billion increase to $5.2 billion despite being marked for elimination in Trump’s budget plan. And an Obama-era transportation grant program known as TIGER would see its budget tripled to $1.5 billion. Head Start for preschoolers would get a $610 million boost, while an additional $2.4 billion would go for child care grants.

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