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Washington — The lobby, however, has yet to issue any memo or talking points regarding the looming sequestration and its potential impact on American aid to Israel. In part, this reflects the problem facing supporters of Israel as they experience the challenge of across-the-board cuts.
Singling out Israel as being immune to any cuts at a time when all other government programs will face painful cuts may be useless at best, or even counterproductive.
History says it will be difficult if not impossible to prevent the cuts. The 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act required all government agencies to cut spending in order to meet the goal of a balanced budget. As a result, aid to Israel took a hit, and Israel was forced to return part of the annual assistance.
This example makes clear that little can be done to fight sequestration and that if legislation is not changed, aid to Israel is facing its biggest financial setback ever.
Political and economic developments, however, could provide last-minute relief. The cuts are scheduled to begin shortly after the 2012 elections, and with a new Congress and possibly a new president, plans for sequestration could be altered.
The cuts also coincide with the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and with the expected need to raise the national debt ceiling once again. A deal that would incorporate all these factors could, experts believe, eliminate the need for automatic budget cuts.
The automatic across-the-board cuts may be the immediate hurdle facing American aid to Israel. But a greater challenge in the long run is a growing distaste among Americans in general and Republicans in particular for foreign aid. Republican presidential candidates, despite pledging their support for Israel, have gone on record promising to begin any discussion on foreign aid “from zero.”
The pro-Israel lobby has taken on the cause of advocating for foreign aid as a means of increasing America’s global clout and as an extension of its diplomacy. On its website, AIPAC features a video clip produced by American Global Leadership, a bipartisan group led by former administration officials, in which young children speak of the importance of foreign aid.
In the viceo, one girl says, “Actually, we’re not spending that much money.” She is followed by a boy holding a jar of marbles. The boy states, as he lifts one marble, “Just 1% of our national budget goes to the international affairs budget.”
A November 21 focus group discussion, organized by The Israel Project, illustrated the challenges the concept of foreign aid faces. The participants, likely Republican voters from Virginia, were asked to give their opinion about foreign aid. The unanimous response around the table: “Too much.”
One woman added, “It’s time we started to take care of ourselves.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org