funding feud

Senate’s foreign budget bill sets up clash with the House

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its State and Foreign Operations bill last week, including funding for the U.N. and Palestinian aid that the House seeks to cut

Jemal Countess/Getty Images for JDRF

Committee chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) greet witnesses and delegates from the 2023 JDRF Children's Congress prior to the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on July 11, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the 2024 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs bill last week, setting up a clash with the House over funding for a range of foreign policy programs.

Debates over topline foreign spending levels and whether and to what extent to continue U.S. support for the United Nations and aid to the Palestinians are likely to be some of many disputes in the coming weeks between the Senate and House as they scramble to finalize 2024 government funding ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline. The stark divisions between the House and Senate’s positions on government funding are fueling concerns about a government shutdown this fall.

Where the House bill seeks to cut much of the U.S. funding to the U.N. and the Palestinians and significantly tighten conditions on such aid, the Senate bill maintains the funding, including $75 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and $225 million for aid to the West Bank and Gaza.

Language in the explanatory report accompanying the Senate bill argues — in stark contrast with the House’s bill — that remaining on the United Nations Human Rights Council is “one of the best ways for the United States to counter” anti-Israel bias in the body. The Senate report does, however, ask the State Department to report to Congress on potential plans to leverage U.S. contributions to compel reforms to UNRWA.

Bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee leaders also announced plans at their meeting last week to seek additional emergency appropriations for State and Foreign Operations, in addition to other budget areas, above the levels agreed to in the debt ceiling agreement between the White House and House Republicans. House Republicans, meanwhile, are aiming for funding levels below those laid out in the debt ceiling deal.

In a victory for Jewish community advocates, the Senate bill includes $2 million — a $500,000 funding increase — for the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, surpassing President Joe Biden’s budget request, as well as language requiring the State Department to present a strategy on avoiding staff shortages in the office. However, the Senate allocation comes in below the House’s $2.5 million allocation for the office.

“We’re pleased to see an increase in the budget for the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. We will continue working to ensure the funding is as high as possible in the final appropriations bill,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told Jewish Insider. “This funding increase will ensure the office can grow to meet the challenges of the day and have the necessary resources to carry out its important work of fighting antisemitism around the world.”

The Senate report separately recommends that the State Department dedicate $1 million to religious freedom programs to combat antisemitism in Europe, as well as asks the department to consult with Congress on efforts to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate in Europe.

The bill also includes the expected $3.3 billion in foreign military financing to Israel, fulfilling the 2016 memorandum of understanding.

The Senate bill would modify a requirement that previously mandated the State Department report on efforts by the Palestinian Authority to counter incitement against Israelis. Now, the Senate asks that the report encompass activities by both sides — the PA and the Israeli government — “to counter incitement of violence and to promote peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The change comes amid rising concerns from some left-wing Democrats about Israeli settler violence targeting Palestinians.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) spoke during the Appropriations Committee meeting last week, warning that Israel is pursuing “effective annexation” of the West Bank, specifically calling out Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and warning that the Israeli government’s actions are “slamming the door shut” on prospects for a two-state solution.

Van Hollen also pledged to “be looking very carefully” at whether U.S. funding is being used to expand Israeli settlements or protect Israeli settler vigilantes. 

“So yes, let’s condemn incidents of Palestinian violence,” Van Hollen continued. “But let’s also hold accountable those settlers who are, every day and regularly, seizing Palestinian lands and those in this Israeli government – very right-wing government – who are aiding and abetting in those actions.”

The committee report additionally asks the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to brief Congress on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

It calls for $50 million for the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, which funds people-to-people and joint business projects between Israelis and Palestinians; $10 million for cooperative Israeli-Arab science programs; and $3 million for U.S.-Israeli cooperation on development projects in developing countries.

The report further instructs the administration to ensure that cooperative programs with Israel include sufficient safeguards against Chinese espionage and interference, and also “encourages such programs to facilitate cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The Senate bill would appropriate $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt and $125 million in non-military aid; $425 million in military aid to Jordan and $845.1 million in budget support funding; $115 million for Lebanon, $14 million of that for scholarship programs; $27.2 million for the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which aims to cultivate leadership and public-private partnership in the Middle East; and $10 million for Palestinian and Syrian refugee scholarship programs within Lebanon.

Where the House bill strips out existing human rights conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt, the Senate version maintains conditions on $225 million of the total $1.3 billion in military aid, as well as adds new language highlighting concerns about Egypt’s treatment of prisoners and American citizens, and its use of U.S. military equipment in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke at the committee meeting in support of U.S. aid to Jordan, in spite of rising concerns about Jordan’s role in the region.

“Jordan, while not perfect, is part of the solution, not the problem,” Graham said. “We cannot live in a world safely as Americans if we don’t deal with other people in the world. When you find an ally, you need to help them.”

The Senate report also urges the administration to increase the level of MEPI funding available for Morocco, as well as to make such funding available for the Western Sahara.

The report additionally adds a new requirement for a report on Iranian influence in Panama.

Just two senators, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Deb Fisher (R-NE), voted against the bill.

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