Editorial: Money for Nothing?

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) is an up-and-comer in the Republican Party leadership. He is very intelligent, a financial hawk, and purports to have a handle on budget matters (we say “purports” because there are diverging perspectives on the true depth of his understanding). Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is a darling of the Tea Party movement and also focused very directly on cutting federal expense.

Ryan, Paul and some of their legislative colleagues are taking a hard line on addressing the fiscal woes of the U.S. Government. Many are encouraging the elimination of earmarks, add-ons to bills that provide funding for legislators’ hometown pet projects. Given that earmarks these days typically comprise less than one percent of the federal budget, it may be that the opposition is more symbolic than substantive. And with state and local governments in serious financial straits, there may be backlash even for this minimal reduction, as the federal dollars are gap-filling for otherwise undoable projects and programs.

But the earmark issue pales in comparison to one of Paul’s other suggestions, to, as JTA reported, “slash foreign spending, including all assistance to Israel.”

Senate Democrats have urged their Republican colleagues to reject this reckless neo-isolationism which could have a devastating effect not only on Israel, but on the Middle East in general and U.S. interests in other parts of the world. In their letter to Ryan and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), heads of House Budget and Appropriations committees, the Senate Democrats state, “Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal budget deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of ‘pork barrel’ spending…U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist.”

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Even if there were any merit to Paul’s reckless proposal, which there is not, the very idea that such a policy would be considered at a time of such extreme instability in the volatile Middle East is beyond appalling. At this stage, there is no way of knowing how the crisis in Egypt will be resolved, but clearly the 30-year stability and maintenance of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 will be at risk. The stress between secular and religious leadership in Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations has never been so pronounced.

To suggest a withdrawal from financial investment in the region at this time is the passive equivalent of dousing a fire with gasoline.

To its credit, the Republican Jewish Coalition, in the wake of Paul’s remarks, said he was “misguided” for saying Israel funding should be cut, adding that he was “likely alone among his [Senate] colleagues in his proposal.”

We indeed hope that (Senator) Paul will be “alone among his colleagues.” Paul’s proposal smacks of a return to the old and discredited Republican isolationism, which sought to create a “Fortress America” from the 1920s through the 1950s. And it has overtones of the wicked “America First” words of Pat Buchanan, no supporter of the Jewish people or Israel.

Since President Harry S. Truman recognized Israel just 11 minutes after its Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, a bipartisan consensus of support for a strong and positive U.S.-Israel relationship has been a bedrock of American foreign policy. We call on Paul’s Senate and House supporters to join their Democratic counterparts in repudiating these isolationist and anti-Israel proposals in the strongest and most emphatic terms.