OK, here’s a somewhat better story on a pretty depressing day. The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, tried to put a hold on foreign aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a manifestation of the same old AIPAC-driven politics, where the US acts punitively toward one side in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The tradition in this area is that if a US Representative puts a hold on funds, the executive branch honors it. But Hillary Clinton decided to ignore the hold, which has Ros-Lehtinen up in arms.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is allowing U.S. funds to flow to the West Bank and Gaza despite a hold by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a rare display of executive-branch authority that angered the key lawmaker concerned about protecting her congressional oversight role.
A State Department official said that a letter was delivered on Tuesday to key members of Congress informing them of Clinton’s decision to move forward with the $147 million package of the fiscal year 2011 economic support funds for the Palestinian people, despite Ros-Lehtinen’s hold. Administrations generally do not disburse funding over the objections of lawmakers on relevant committees.
The funds deliver “critical support to the Palestinian people and those leaders seeking to combat extremism within their society and build a more stable future. Without funding, our programs risk cancellation,” the official, who was not authorized to speak about the issue, said in an e-mail. “Such an occurrence would undermine the progress that has been made in recent years in building Palestinian institutions and improving stability, security, and economic prospects, which benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
There’s some danger here of the executive branch dictating foreign aid funding, when that’s generally Congress’ power. But as I understand it, this funding was already voted on and authorized by Congress. This process of holds is extra-Constitutional in nature, mainly a tradition. And Ros-Lehtinen, along with the relevant appropriations subcommittee chair Kay Granger, agreed to release more than half of the funding already.
“Congressional objection” by one individual member of Congress is not supposed to supersede legislation, and it hardly constitutes oversight in the traditional meaning of the term. Ros-Lehtinen wants to micromanage funds already authorized, seeking to stop road construction projects in the West Bank, any assistance programs in Gaza (because of Hamas’ presence), tourist promotion, or “scholarships for Palestinian students.” That’s entirely punitive, and if it were such a good idea, it should have been put into budget appropriations.
Based on these factors, I’d say Clinton was absolutely right to override the hold. I wouldn’t say that there has been a great deal of progress on the Palestine front, contra that State Department quote. But the State Department did not succumb to a punitive rendering on humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.
If Texts From Hillary still existed, this would be a good subject for one.