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Clinton Funds Palestinians Despite Congressional Hold

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking particularly old in a vain attempt to look young. The woman really needs to get a haircut appropriate to her age.

National Journal (“Clinton Overrules Republican Lawmaker’s Hold on Palestinian Aid“):

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.”

Late last month, Ros-Lehtinen sent a letter to Clinton and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, informing them she will lift her hold on some $88.6 million of the Palestinian aid package — out of the full $147 million — under special conditions. Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, agreed to release her hold on the full assistance package on humanitarian grounds.

I both disagree with Ros-Lehtinen on the substance of her policy objection and am leery of Congressional micromanagement of US foreign policy in this manner. Still, the Executive doesn’t have the authority to overrule Congress on spending issues and the State Department’s powers exist mostly under delegation from Congress. This is a dangerous precedent, indeed, and I would expect Congress to act to reclaim its power here.

UPDATE: In a back-and-forth in the comments section, @Tano posits a perfectly reasonable question: “What is the alternative? Having the executive branch spend the money that Congress has appropriated without having a single member interfere? What is wrong with that?”

Let me respond here rather than in the comments section, as my initial posting was rather vague, and bump this post from a Quick Take to a longer post.

Under the current system, Congress gives the Executive money in big baskets with boatloads of discretionary authority–with the proviso that they can micromanage tiny bits of it if a powerful Member feels strongly about it. That’s not ideal, as I’ve already stipulated.

Removing the minor absurdities, though, may yield a worse system in which Congress attempts to micromanage larger parts of US foreign policy via the budget process. That’s assuming, of course, that Congress could actually manage to pass a budget under such a scenario.

The niceties of our system are rather silly but they lubricate what would otherwise be an even more fractious system and allow it to operate.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Westcliff says:

    James — Is the Obama Administration really “overruling Congress on spending issues” here? The National Journal article in the 2nd paragraph you quote seems to suggest that the deferral is a custom, and one that can be implemented by a single lawmaker on an appropriate committee. Whether it’s wise to pick a fight is an entirely different issue, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. James H says:

    Is the “hold” a matter of courtesy or a matter of legislation? If the former, then the administration has merely been gauche.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Westcliff: @James H: The problem is that appropriations go through with the understanding of these customary practices. While I don’t think allowing a single Member hold up spending is wise, it may beat the alternatives.

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  4. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Can you fathom the reaction of the media and of the chattering classes if Condi Rice had in 2007 or in 2008 ignored an appropriations hold by a Democrat committee chair? Yikes.

    That aside, Congressional holds have been established practice for decades in various contexts including and outside of appropriations. They’ve been honored both by Democrat and Republican administrations. That’s just how the process works. Regarding appropriations it’s established to the level of hornbook that House committees control the purse strings. Everyone in Congress knows that. Everyone on Pennsylvania Ave. knows that. Everyone on K Street knows that. Again, it’s just how the process works.

    Lastly, regardless of this particular kerfuffle, I would hope going forward that the government takes a very close look at how, why and to what extent we should be spending taxpayer dollars in the PA-controlled areas. Humanitarian assistance is one thing. But when “humanitarian assistance” really is a de facto stipend to the likes of Hamas then it’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  5. Tano says:

    I don’t think allowing a single Member hold up spending is wise, it may beat the alternatives.

    What is the alternative? Having the executive branch spend the money that Congress has appropriated without having a single member interfere? What is wrong with that?

    Who elected Ros-Lehtinen to have powers that trump the Executive branch and the Congress as a whole?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Franklin says:

    The niceties of our system are rather silly but they lubricate what would otherwise be an even more fractious system and allow it to operate.

    Yes, and I think this little kerfuffle is actually good because it keeps everybody honest. In other words, the State Dept. might win this time but be a bit leary of pushing too hard in the future, which helps maintain the ‘niceties’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. dennis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    Hamas is still designated a terrorist organization under U.S. policy. USAID funds go to the Palestinian Authority governed by Mahmoud Abbas. There is no love lost between the two parties. So you can rest your weary head that Hamas is not receiving, de facto, USAID funds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. An Interested Party says:

    So you can rest your weary head that Hamas is not receiving, de facto, USAID funds.

    Don’t confuse the poor lad with facts…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Tillman says:

    Is the “hold” a matter of courtesy or a matter of legislation? If the former, then the administration has merely been gauche.

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  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    But when “humanitarian assistance” really is a de facto stipend to the likes of Hamas then it’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

    Counsellor Nicko once again demonstrates his compendious knowledge of foreign affairs. The money goes to the Palestinian Authority Counsellor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. al-Ameda says:

    No wonder House Republicans have a nearly single-digit public approval rating.

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  12. John425 says:

    “…allowing U.S. funds to flow to the West Bank and Gaza despite…”

    Last time I checked Hamas controlled the Gaza. The Gaza dollars will surely be used to kill Israeli children but that doesn’t seem to bother this OTB crowd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. dennis says:

    @John425:

    John, you are either woefully ignorant or willfully intellectually dishonest. Either way, at no point in the post is it stated that funds specifically go to Gaza or the West Bank, for that matter. As stated prior, USAID funds go to the PA, not Hamas.

    At Tsar Nicholas: Nice evasion from the original topic. Try to keep up next time.

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