The proposal to give Israel a huge supplemental appropriation for Iron Dome has been in the air since the end of the May 2021 Israel-Gaza military engagement. With the White House and Democratic leaders clearly and publicly in support of the proposal, as a congressional matter it has been a question not of whether the funding would find its way into legislation, but when it would do so and what the debate around it would look like.
In the meantime, since the summer House Republicans have been using Iron Dome to score points against Democrats, mainly using a procedural gambit called a “motion to recommit” (MTR) (documented here and here). With an MTR, a member offers a motion on the floor seeking to have a bill that is about to pass returned to the committee of jurisdiction, ostensibly to make a critical amendment. In reality, MTRs are almost always used to try to derail passage of a bill (by taking it off the floor) or for political point-scoring (where rejection of the MTR is framed as rejection of the underlying amendment).
In recent months, House Republicans have offered numerous MTRs ostensibly seeking to return bills to committee in order to add $1 billion for Iron Dome (bills that have nothing to do with foreign aid, the military, or anything else that could plausibly make them appropriate for this purpose, and bills whose committee(s) of jurisdiction have nothing to do with Department of Defense funding or Israel aid). Each time, when the MTR is rejected, Republicans attack Democrats for allegedly blocking Iron Dome funding.
Iron Dome Funding in the Continuing Resolution
With the end of the fiscal year looming and many FY22 appropriations bills not yet passed, Congress needs, urgently, to pass a Continuing Resolution. This week – on the morning of 9/21 – the text of the House version of that resolution (which become HR 5305) appeared on the Rules Committee website, where the Committee was set (almost immediately) to pass a Rule under which the measure would be brought to the floor for a vote (a rule that would not permit for any amendments).
Normally, a CR is a “clean” piece of legislation. As in, a CR is generally speaking a straightforward measure that works to keep the government from shutting down, and doesn’t include extraneous, controversial provisions.
This year’s CR, in contrast, included something controversial: when the text came out on 9/21, it was discovered – to the surprise of pretty much everyone (except, of course, the drafters) – that under the heading “continuing appropriations” the bill included a provision granting Israel $1 billion (available over 3 years) for Iron Dome.
Notably – and as widely misunderstood or deliberately mis-characterized by many Republicans, as well as many in the media – there is no possible way to call this $1 billion a “continuing” appropriation, or regular funding for Israel, or part of “full funding” for Iron Dome, or even just a “replenishment” of Iron Dome. Here are the facts – and they are true regardless of whether one opposes or supports the extra funding for Israel:
- This $1 billion is not part of regular U.S. funding for Iron Dome. Regular FY22 Iron Dome funding is included in this year’s NDAA (passed by the House on 9/23) — funding that has been in no way challenged or even questioned.
- This $1 billion is not part of the funds committed to Israel under the current US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding. That MOU commits the U.S. to $500 million per year in funding for missile defense (which includes Iron Dome).
- This $1 billion is not consistent with past or current levels of U.S. funding for Iron Dome. Indeed, as POMED’s Seth Binder noted, since 2011, the U.S. has provided a total of $1.7 billion for the Iron Dome, and in 2021 provided $73 million for Iron Dome procurement (as part of the aforementioned $500 million for missile defense). Doing the math, Seth notes that $1 billion works out to a staggering 14 times more than the U.S. gave Israel in 2021, and an even more staggering 60% of what the U.S. has provided Israel over the course of a decade’s support for the program.
- This $1 billion for Israel is not non-controversial, notwithstanding the fact that Iron Dome is a defensive system. Given Israeli actions vis-à-vis Gaza, there are some in Congress who either oppose granting Israel additional massive military funding, or who may support it but reject the “blank check” approach and want it to include oversight requirements or conditions (and notably, one of the common objections to calls for oversight/conditions is that this would violate the MOU, but this $1 billion is not part of the MOU), or may simply want to ensure that there is a real debate around the additional funding that includes an opportunity to raise concerns about Israeli actions/policies, and for every member to make their case and vote their conscience.
In this context, a number of House Democrats registered their dissatisfaction with their leadership for sneaking the Iron Dome provision into the CR, rather than moving it as part of the relevant appropriations bill (the Defense Appropriations bill) or as a supplemental, where in either case there would be an opportunity for debate, amendments, and a chance for members to vote their conscience.
Some House Democrats reportedly made clear that if the Iron Dome language was left in the CR they would vote against it. And given the razor-thin Democratic majority in the House — and the fact that NO Republicans were going to vote for the bill, even if it included Iron Dome, the threat of losing these votes could not be ignored. And note: had just a few Republicans been ready to vote for the CR, the opposition from a handful of progressive Democrats would have been no obstacle to its passage.
Removing Iron Dome Funding the the Continuing Resolution
As a result of (a) opposition from Democrats to including Iron Dome funding in the CR, and (b) total opposition to the CR from Republicans, irrespective of the fate of Iron Dome funding, hours after the controversy first erupted Democratic leadership amended the bill in the Rules Committee – removing the Iron Dome provision while explicitly promising to move the measure expeditiously as part of the FY22 Defense Appropriations bill (see statement in Rules Committee by DeLauro, D-CT).
Also note – the opposition to including the Iron Dome funding in the CR was not exclusively linked to opposition to the funding itself, as made clear in important (but widely overlooked) comments from Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chair McCollum (D-MN). After noting that the Iron Dome funding was added to the CR “without my knowledge or consent”, she commented: “This language would have resulted in total chaos in the U.S. House of Representatives’ appropriations process because it would have added an additional billion dollars that had not been budgeted for. Cuts in other spending bills would have been required to make this work…”
Subsequently, with respect to the CR:
- Removal of the Iron Dome provision unleashed a wave of Republican attacks on Democrats, who they accused of betraying Israel, siding with terrorists, antisemitism, leaving Israel defenseless(!), de-funding Iron Dome, etc.
- Floor consideration of the CR included (no surprise) yet another Republican-introduced Iron Dome-linked MTR, this one offered by Granger (R-TX), and rejected by a vote of 209-215. The rejection of that MTR, predictably, was used by Republicans as another hook to accuse Democrats of betraying Israel, siding with terrorists, leaving Israel defenseless(!), de-funding Iron Dome, etc.
- Passage of the Continuing Resolution (on a party-line vote) unleashed more Republican point-scoring outrage and accusations (which continues as of this writing) — notwithstanding the explicit, public commitment of House Democratic leaders to move the Iron Dome funding expeditiously, outside of the CR, and notwithstanding the fact that Republicans were going to vote against it anyway. Indeed, Republican statements denouncing the bill are really something to see: simultaneously castigating Democrats for supposedly out-of-control spending and recklessly indebting future generations of Americans, while also bashing them for not funding Iron Dome and suggesting that their vote against the CR, which again, they would have voted against even if it included Iron Dome funding, is a pro-Israel vote.
Bringing an Iron Dome Supplemental bill to the House floor
The focus next shifted to a different vehicle for the $1 billion in supplemental aid for Israel. By all appearances the political imperative to move the Iron Dome funding expeditiously (to push back against the non-stop Republican attacks and a deeply problematic public narrative, emerging in part out of misinformation and/or disinformation) apparently led Democratic leadership to decide (within hours) against using the Defense Appropriations bill as the vehicle for the $1 billion supplemental for Israel (that bill still has some way to go before it will pass) and instead to move it immediately as free-standing legislation. Subsequently:
- The freestanding Iron Dome supplemental was brought to the floor for statements and a vote on 9/23. Notably, Republicans speaking on the floor (and on Twitter, and in press releases) engaged in some enormously creative linguistic gymnastics in order to simultaneously support/claim credit for the bill (notwithstanding the fact that it was brought to the floor by the Democrats), while also slamming the Democrats for having removed the Iron Dome supplemental from the CR (notwithstanding the fact that all Republicans were always going to oppose the CR, regardless of whether or not it contained Iron Dome funding).
- After Tlaib (D-MI) delivered a floor statement offering harsh criticism of Israeli actions and using the word “apartheid” to describe Israeli policies (language consistent with that used by the Israeli human rights groups Btselem and Yesh Din, and by Human Rights Watch), Republicans escalated their rhetoric with some directly attacking Tlaib, and shifted to attacking Democrats as antisemitic and supporters of terrorism. They were joined most notably by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Deutch (D-FL), who delivered a statement railing against Tlaib and called her statement/views antisemitic.
- In the end, the bill was passed by the House 9/23 by a vote of 420-9, with 2 voting present. NO votes were: Bush (D-MA), Carson (D-IN), García (D-IL), Grijalva (D-AZ), Massie (R-KY), Newman (D-IL), Omar (D-MN), Pressley (D-MA), and Tlaib (D-MI). Notably, Massie – the one Republican “no” vote, seems to have been preemptively forgiven by defenders of Israel for voting agains the bill, based on the fact that it reflects his strict libertarian opposition to foreign aid, as opposed to anything at all to do with Israel]. PRESENT votes were: Johnson (D-GA) and Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Notably, Ocasio-Cortez initially voted “No” but then changed it to “present.” She subsequently issued a statement explaining her change of vote (a statement that appears to have pleased pretty much nobody).
- In the end, passage of the Iron Dome supplemental in the House did nothing to stem the tide of partisan attacks, and given Democratic piling on against critics of the bill, arguably only fueled and legitimized them.
What Happens Next?
Action now moves to the Senate. As documented in Section 1 of this report, Senators Shelby (R-AL) and McConnell (R-KY) – clearly seeing an opportunity to capitalize on the House debacle and import it into the Senate to score points against Democratic senators – on 9/22 introduced their own version of the CR, in which they included the Iron Dome funding. Since then Cruz (R-TX) and possibly Rubio (R-FL) et al have introduced their own versions of the supplemental. Stay tuned for more grandstanding & drama.
This Iron Dome debacle is an own-goal of epic proportions for Democratic leaders (both in Congress and in the White House).
There is no way Democratic leaders didn’t know that a not-insignificant-number of House Democrats had concerns about or objections to the proposed $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel for Iron Dome. So why did they decide to try to sneak this funding into the CR?
Did they assume they could corner progressives into quietly going along with it, by forcing them to choose between voting their conscience and keeping the government open? Did they think putting this funding into the CR – an option that would largely prevent floor debate and amendments – would circumvent discussion/criticism of Israeli actions & accountability that they preferred to avoid? Did they view this as an opportunity to squeeze Republicans — by in effect forcing them to vote against funding for Israel (since all Republicans were going to vote against the CR, regardless of whether it included the Iron Dome provision) — that was so valuable it outweighed the need to take seriously objections in their own caucus?
Regardless of why it happened, the decision to sneak the $1 billion in extra funding for Israel for Iron Dome into the CR suggests outright contempt from Democratic leaders for their progressive colleagues, weak/cowardly leadership, and incredibly poor strategic thinking.
Given the spectrum of views among congressional Democrats, a confident leadership would have taken the bull by the horns, actively welcoming a debate about this funding (which it was always clear would be supported by most House Democrats, some passionately). Normal consideration of this $1 billion in extra aid — involving an opportunity for statements, debate and amendments — should have been seen as a valuable opportunity for supporters of the funding to make their case, and for those with concerns about the funding and the policies/actions it supports to speak their minds and vote their conscience.
Instead, this gambit of sneaking the funding into the CR resulted in an unnecessary public battle among Democrats, and handed Republicans what appears to be (as of this writing) inexhaustible, high-caliber political ammunition to be fired gleefully not just at progressives, but at Democrats in general.
Moreover, politically speaking this own-goal is even more egregious given the fact that it is Republicans who are voting against Israel aid, over and over. As Rep. Hayes (D-CT) pointed out on the House floor, “on July 1 the Appropriations Committee voted on HR 4373, which contains the bulk of Israel aid, $3.3 billion in security assistance. Every Republican voted ‘no.’ On July 13, the Appropriations Committee voted on HR 4432, which includes $500 million in missile defense. Every Republican voted ‘no.’” And of course, if just a few Republicans had been willing to vote for the Continuing Resolution that started this whole debacle, it could have passed easily WITH Iron Dome funding included.
Yet, notwithstanding all of these facts, Democratic leaders still somehow managed the astounding feat of helping Republicans define and drive a public narrative in which Democrats are on the defensive with respect to funding for Israel.
And adding insult to self-inflicted injury, in terms of the Democratic caucus, the upshot of this gambit is some Democratic leaders sending a message to their own progressives colleagues that Democrats not only won’t defend the political space for their progressive colleagues to share their views (views that are shared by many Democratic voters) or vote their consciences, but that Democrats will stand by quietly or even join in with Republicans in delegitimizing and attacking them.