Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Senate passes money for Israel missile defense

The FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill passed the Senate today by a vote of 93 to 7. It includes just over $200 million for Israel's missile defense efforts. Read on to learn some Congressional knowledge.

By way of a quick reminder, for a bill to become law it must pass first one of the two houses of Congress. Once this is done, the other house designs and votes on its own version. Often times, the house in which the bill does not originate is involved in the process of crafting the bill in the originating house. Once the bill passes the second house, both bills are sent to conference where the two bills are compared to ensure that they say the same thing. Out of conference comes the final bill which is then presented to the president.

In this bill, which President Obama has said he "strongly supports," Israel is appropriated $202,434,000 for its various missile defense programs. This is in addition (and outside of) the roughly $3 billion Israel receives annually in U.S. aid. This is the lowest amount appropriated for Israel's defense programs since 2005, though only by a few million. Considering the current economy, this is very acceptable.

Constitutionally, only the House of Representatives has the right to originate bills that concern revenue generation; it does not specify if one house has the right to originate spending, or "appropriations," bills. However, in true Capitol Hill style, the House has historically believed they hold the exclusive right to originate these bills as well. Naturally, the Senate does not agree.

The Senate has repeatedly asserted its right to originate spending legislation by adopting resolutions to that end, and has even called for commissions to study the dispute. However, House precedents have defined "revenue measures" to include general appropriations bills, claiming that at the time the Constitution was adopted, "raising revenue" meant "raising money and appropriating the same."

So, whenever the Senate does initiate appropriations legislation, the House practice is to return it to the Senate with a blue piece of paper attached citing a constitutional infringement of House prerogatives. This is known as "blue-slipping."

Without House action, Senate-initiated spending legislation cannot make it into law. So in practice, the Senate rarely attempts to initiate such bills anymore, and if it does, the House is diligent about returning them. Regardless of what the Founding Fathers intended, the House refusal to consider such Senate legislation settles the matter in practice.

In reality, especially with defense appropriations, while the House may blue-slip the bill, they are likely to already be on-board with its contents, and are likely to craft a bill similar, if not identical, to the Senate bill. This means that the $202 million earmarked for Israel's defense programs is likely safe.

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