No I in Tea

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Michael Grimm wants to prove that the pen is mightier than the Whip count–the number of Congressmen expected to vote on any given bill.

The freshman congressman representing Staten Island and Brooklyn declared in a letter to the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, that he would vote “no” on a resolution to fund government operations for the next seven months if it reduced military aid to Israel.

“The most important use of federal resources is to ensure the safety and security of our great nation,” Grimm said in a statement.  “A key to that safety is the security assistance the United States provides our most important ally in the Middle East, Israel.”

The bill released by the House Appropriations Committee on Friday cuts $40 billion in domestic spending and foreign aid.  The Paul plan would eliminate the annual $3 billion aid package to Israel, which receives the second largest share of U.S. foreign aid.  Grimm’s stance puts him at odds with the Tea Party heavyweight, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who wants to eliminate foreign aid altogether.  The fissure between Paul, and Grimm, a lower profile Tea Party candidate, reveals a greater ambiguity in the attitudes of Tea Party-elected candidates towards foreign policy, and in particular, Israel.

Republicans and Democrats alike have rallied against the cuts in aid to Israel.  And Grimm isn’t the only Tea Party-pol opposing the cuts.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told a political blog in Florida that military aid was vital to our partnership with Israel[5]. Despite the difference in their tone towards Israel, Grimm, Rubio and Paul face a similar brutal reality—fulfilling promises of deficit reduction and confronting fundamental, but complex questions like Israel.

The New York Times called the Tea Party-backed members of Congress “something of a mystery.” Even Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who delivered the Tea Party’s rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address, remains inconsistent when diverging paths cross.  She said the United States would be cursed if it did not support Israel, but agreed with a radio talk show host who suggested cutting foreign aid.

Certainly, resistance to foreign aid exists in the American public as pointed out by a spokesman for Paul, even though it only comprises one percent of the federal budget.  A recent Gallup poll found that 59 percent of Americans favored cutting the amount the government spends in foreign aid.  But more specifically, a 2002 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of respondents wanted the amount of aid to Israel kept the same, while  26 percent wanted it decreased.

If the Tea Party’s stance on aid to Israel isn’t clear, one thing is.  Pro-Israel groups expect at least some modicum of support from the Tea Part, despite any lingering reservations.  While Paul clashed with AIPAC over the very issue of foreign aid, Grimm has retained much stronger support from the Jewish community in his district and pro-Israel groups.

And while Tea Partiers like Grimm remain steadfast in their support of Israel, the comments of those like Paul serve as a link between the movement and lax support for Israel.  It’s a link built mostly on perception, but as the saying goes:

“In politics, perception is reality.”

Correction: The article previously misidentified the position of Rep. Eric Cantor. He is the House Majority Leader, not the majority whip.

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