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Lowey hits back at Cantor over foreign aid funding

The Democratic chairwoman of the subcommittee tasked with drawing up U.S. foreign assistance bills rejected Monday calls from a member of the Republican leadership to separate funding designated for Israel from the rest of the foreign aid budget, in the event that the foreign operations budget explodes into a war next year. Rep. Eric Cantor ...

The Democratic chairwoman of the subcommittee tasked with drawing up U.S. foreign assistance bills rejected Monday calls from a member of the Republican leadership to separate funding designated for Israel from the rest of the foreign aid budget, in the event that the foreign operations budget explodes into a war next year.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the current House minority whip who could become majority leader if Republicans take control next year, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that a GOP-led Congress would seek to defund aid to countries that don't share U.S. interests. If that means rejecting the State Department and Foreign Operations funding bill altogether, so be it, Cantor said. However, he added that he would separate out funding for Israel, so that alone could move forward unimpeded.

"Minority Whip Cantor's proposal is as transparent as it is reckless," current Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said in a statement. Even if the funding for Israel survived, said Lowey, killing the foreign aid bill would hurt Israel in other ways, by harming U.S. diplomatic efforts throughout the region.

The Democratic chairwoman of the subcommittee tasked with drawing up U.S. foreign assistance bills rejected Monday calls from a member of the Republican leadership to separate funding designated for Israel from the rest of the foreign aid budget, in the event that the foreign operations budget explodes into a war next year.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the current House minority whip who could become majority leader if Republicans take control next year, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that a GOP-led Congress would seek to defund aid to countries that don’t share U.S. interests. If that means rejecting the State Department and Foreign Operations funding bill altogether, so be it, Cantor said. However, he added that he would separate out funding for Israel, so that alone could move forward unimpeded.

"Minority Whip Cantor’s proposal is as transparent as it is reckless," current Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said in a statement. Even if the funding for Israel survived, said Lowey, killing the foreign aid bill would hurt Israel in other ways, by harming U.S. diplomatic efforts throughout the region.

"The foreign aid bill funds U.S. diplomatic efforts at the State Department, including diplomacy related to peace in the Middle East," she said. "Because it is inextricably linked with broader U.S. national security goals, separating assistance for Israel in order to make it easier for Republican members to vote against the foreign aid bill would be counterproductive."

Democrats are worried that Cantor is just looking for any way to provide cover for Republicans to vote against the foreign aid budget as part of an effort to appear fiscally conservative and appeal to the foreign aid skeptics on the conservative wing of the GOP.

Normally, such statements would be disregarded by Democratic leadership as the usual rantings of the obstructionist minority leadership. But because the GOP actually stands a good chance of taking control of the House, Cantor’s words have new impact.

"If they’re going to have the majority, a notion that we are not conceding, as a Republican leader he can’t just spout off like that," said one Democratic House staffer involved in the issue. "He’s got a responsibility to say what he means and mean what he says."

Of course, Democrats have nobody but themselves to blame for their delay in passing the State and Foreign Ops funding bill. The House hasn’t even brought their $52.8 billion bill to the full Appropriations Committee yet. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out their version, which totals $54.2 billion, $2.6 billion less than the administration’s request.

Since fiscal 2010 ended on Oct. 1, the State Department has been operating under what’s called a Continuing Resolution (CR), which essentially provides stopgap funding at the previous year’s level. But this piecemeal appropriations process creates all sorts of problems for agency budgeting and planning.

The CR expires Dec. 2, which means Congress will have to appropriate more money during its post-election lame duck session, one way or the other. Lawmakers could fund the whole fiscal 2011 year budget, or it could simply pass another CR that kicks the can down the road for a whole host of agencies, leaving it to the new Congress to deal with the debate.

If the GOP wins control of the House on Nov. 2, they will be able to make the persuasive argument that Congress should wait until their new members are seated before important budget decisions are made.

"I’m sure that the Republicans are going to demand that we not pass year long appropriations bills if they win the majority," one Democratic appropriations staffer said.

Either way, Cantor’s comments signal that the relative bipartisan support for robust foreign aid funding may be coming to an end. Last year, the fiscal 2010 State Department and Foreign Ops bill passed the House with the support of 76 Republican by a vote of 316 to 106.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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