Congress Passes U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act

— by Elanna Cahn

Congress passed the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), which strengthens the relationship between the U.S. and Israel on issues such as defense and energy:

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Iron_Dome_Intercepts_Rockets_from_the_Gaza_Strip

An Israel Defense Forces anti-missile “Iron Dome” system.

  • increasing the value of the U.S. forward-deployed weapons stockpile in Israel and authorizes additional defense transfers;
  • requiring the administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain U.S. technologies and products;
  • encouraging government and private sector cooperation between the two countries in several areas such as energy, water, agriculture, cyber-security, and alternative fuel technologies;
  • stating U.S. policy should include Israel in the list of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program, when Israel satisfies the requirements for inclusion;
  • requiring the administration to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors;
  • strengthening collaboration between the U.S. and Israel on energy development and encourages increased cooperation between the two countries’ academic, business and governmental sectors.

The National Democratic Jewish Council’s chair, Greg A. Rosenbaum, said that the Act “sends a clear, bipartisan message that the U.S.-Israel bond is unbreakable.”

As we have said time and time again, Israel must not become a partisan wedge issue. No party has a claim on being a ‘better’ friend to Israel, and any attempt to claim that is absurd.

Another Republican Attempt to Use Iran for Political Gain


Congress can take action against any Iran deal with or without Senator Bob Corker’s amendment.

— by Steve Sheffey

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), enjoys broad bipartisan support and was on its way to an easy passage.

But last week, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) indicated that he would introduce an amendment requiring Congressional hearings and a vote on a non-binding “joint resolution of disapproval” on any Iran nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration.

This is not a bipartisan effort: Corker does not have a Democratic co-sponsor. This is another Republican attempt to manipulate legitimate concerns about Iran for political gain.

Almost everyone supports the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. Why not let it pass with strong bipartisan support and vote separately on a bill to authorize a joint resolution of disapproval?

Corker wants all or nothing. He is willing to put the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act at risk to gain a talking point Republicans can use against Democrats who oppose his amendment.

More after the jump.
Boxer pulled the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act from consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to avoid a vote on the Iran amendment. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also opposes voting on Corker’s Iran amendment.

Corker’s amendment is unnecessary: Congress does and should have a role in the process. But Corker’s amendment does not give Congress any authority to block a deal with Iran; it just creates an opportunity for more grandstanding. As Boxer pointed out, Congress can take action against any deal with or without Corker’s amendment.

Some in Congress want a deal with Iran that is so airtight, so perfect, that it would be impossible to achieve. They do not seem to realize that the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiations table will not by themselves stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The alternative to diplomacy is not more sanctions — although more sanctions will surely be the first response if diplomacy fails — but either war or containment.

That is not to say that opponents of the interim deal process want war: They do not. They sincerely believe that merciless sanctions will stop Iran, even though Iran’s nuclear program had accelerated as sanctions increased, but has slowed down significantly since the interim agreement was put in place and a limited sanctions relief was granted.

The Obama administration’s position is that we need to give diplomacy a chance because:

  • Diplomacy might work (although President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton all give it a chance of less than 50% to succeed).
  • The case for even tougher sanctions, and if necessary, military action, will be much stronger. We will be much more likely to maintain the international coalition, that is essential if we are to have any chance of success, if we first try diplomacy and thereby convince the world that there really is no alternative to more sanctions or military action.

Obama has been clear that diplomacy might not work, and has been equally clear that we will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, repeatedly stating that no option, including the military one, is off the table. He has boxed himself in: He cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons without his presidency being judged a failure by his own standard.

If nevertheless you do not think that Obama will use military force, even if it will be the only way to stop Iran, then you should support diplomacy and oppose congressional initiatives that would complicate diplomatic efforts and make it harder for diplomacy to succeed. If diplomacy does not succeed, military action will be the only option left.

Now is not the time for Congress to upset the apple cart. There is no reason that Corker’s amendment needs to be voted on now — as opposed to later in the process — other than to create an election-year issue for the Republicans.

Senators Boxer and Menendez are good friends of the pro-Israel community. We should commend them for refusing to play Corker’s game.

Jewish Organizations Push To Protect Women

— by Max Samis

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — which has been passed and reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since it’s inception in 1994 — prominent Democrats marked April 17 as “Equal Pay Day,” recognizing the importance of continuing to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Several leading Democrats issued statements and penned op-eds in order to raise awareness of the issue, as well as the larger fight for women’s rights.

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:

President Obama and Democrats understand that equal pay is so important for women and their families that one of the first pieces of legislation Democrats passed in 2009 and the first bill the President signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that women can fight for equal pay for equal work, and on National Equal Pay Day we celebrate our continued fight for economic equality, regardless of gender.

The President’s commitment to women is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and the GOP’s attitude toward equal pay for women. While Democrats and the President were making equal pay for equal work a priority, nearly every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Mitt Romney has called a ‘hero,’ recently repealed that state’s fair pay law; and Mitt Romney refuses to say if he would have signed Lilly Ledbetter had he been president at the time. His campaign on a conference call last week couldn’t even articulate a response when asked his position on the law….

On Equal Pay Day women can rest assured that Democrats and President Obama will continue the fight for equal pay for equal work and will fight for their right to make health care choices for themselves and their families. It’s a shame that Mitt Romney and Republicans can’t say the same thing.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — the first female speaker in American history — also said:

I’m proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic-led Congress on behalf of equal pay and fairness. The Lilly Ledbetter Act-the first bill President Obama signed into law-restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court. Further, under the Affordable Care Act, soon women will no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage and no longer will being a woman be treated as a pre-existing condition.  

On Equal Pay Day, we honor all of our nation’s women, who through their labor – at home and in the workplace – have made our country strong. And we recommit to opening the doors of opportunity for the next generation of women.

Graph of pay gap by profession, a map of pay gap by state, and op/eds by Senators Gillibrand and Boxer follow the jump.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post, discussing the importance of pay equity not just to women, but to the national economy as a whole. Gillibrand wrote:

…[T]he issue of pay equity is not merely one of fairness. Equal pay for equal work is vital for our economic growth and middle class financial security. With more and more women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle class working families-men and children included. In New York alone, women head more than 1,000,000 households. It’s estimated that because of the wage gap, New York families are deprived of $8600 a year. Nationwide, it’s been estimated that if women were paid a dollar on the dollar for equal work, the U.S. GDP could grow up to 9 percent.

Gillibrand also discussed pay equity in regards to women’s health. She wrote:

In addition to being an economic security issue, the failure to pay women a salary that’s equal to men for equal work is also a women’s health issue. The fact is that the salary women are paid directly impacts the type of health care services they are able to access for both themselves and their families. For example, if we closed the wage gap, a working woman in New York would be able to afford more than 2 years worth of additional family health insurance premiums. At a time when women’s health services are increasingly vulnerable to budget cuts, it’s more important than ever that women have financial security to maintain access to basic care for them and their families.

In Politico, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an op-ed asserting that contrary to what Republicans may have you believe, the “war on women” is very real:

Suppose it’s the championship basketball game and one player is committing foul after foul. Each time, he denies he’s committed any offense.

Eventually, he fouls out. But even as he heads to the bench, he’s protesting that he did nothing wrong.

That’s what we’re seeing today from Republicans who claim there is no ‘war on women.’ The Republican National Committee chairman likened it to a ‘war on caterpillars.’ The Senate Republican leader claims it’s all manufactured – even as female members of his caucus warn about the growing backlash against the GOP from women.

House Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills that would restrict a woman’s reproductive health care. Those same Republicans, who decry an all-too-powerful government, have no problem deciding what health care is right for our daughters, or sisters or mothers….

Here in Congress, 116 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate are co-sponsors of ‘personhood’ legislation, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s life or health. … It could even bar doctors from providing life-saving care to women with dangerous ectopic pregnancies.

It doesn’t end there. Republicans in Congress blocked an international treaty – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – even though the only other nations refusing to ratify it are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga.

They also oppose increasing the minimum wage – when women make up about two-thirds of all workers now earning minimum wage or less. Not one Republican is a cosponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which helps protect women from domestic violence, when the bill was in the Senate Judiciary Committee. They voted to repeal the health care law – including the part that says no more gender discrimination in the pricing of health insurance policies and the part that offers free preventive services like mammograms, STD screening, well-woman visits and birth control.

The facts are the facts. The Republicans have launched a war on women. Despite all the denials, women get it – and so do the men who care about them.

In addition to the fight for pay equality, Democrats have pushed for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Led by Vice President Joe Biden – who originally wrote and sponsored the bill as a Senator from Delaware in 1994 – a group of lawmakers and private citizens spoke today about the importance of passing the bill with bipartisan support. Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown wrote:

‘The idea we’re still fighting about this in Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,’ Biden said during remarks at the Eisenhower Office Building. ‘It’s not a reflection on the law. It is a reflection on our inability in this town to deal with something that by now should just be over in terms of debate about it.’

‘No one should question whether this is needed,’ Biden said at the end of his remarks. ‘It would have been bad if the law had never been passed. But imagine now, the message it sends if it is not reauthorized. Just ask what message it would send to every one of our daughters, every woman imprisoned in their home.’

Several prominent Jewish organizations have also spoken out in favor of VAWA’s reauthorization. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Hadassah have all urged their supporters to contact their local Congressional delegations and urge that they vote to pass the reauthorization of VAWA immediately. This is too important to wait.

  • Click here to read Senator Gillibrand’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read Senator Boxer’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read about how President Barack Obama’s actions have reflected Jewish values, including his accomplishments on women’s rights.

US Gender Pay Gap By State

Sen. Boxer’s knockout election, Sen. Craig’s bathroom bust

Senator Barbara Boxer joins Marines in Iraq at mealPart 6 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

‘It is appalling that a united House position – and common sense – weren’t enough to convince the Senate that the most at-risk areas need this security funding,’

– U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, from New York’s Westchester County

The composition of the U.S. Senate threatened to partly claim homeland security funds for New York City.

The city that bears the starkest terrorist target on its back was competing with 64 cities for shrinking funds, from $887 million to $725 million in the budget that ran to Sept. 30, 2011. The 20 percent cut was part of the Republican-imposed budget deal reached between President Obama and members of Congress.

More after the jump.
New York House members attempted to pare down the number of eligible cities from 64 to 25 or less, but Senate members vetoed the idea, according to The NY Daily News.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester Democrat, told the News that the city would lose $27 million because of the large number of competitors.

“It is appalling that a united House position – and common sense – weren’t enough to convince the Senate that the most at-risk areas need this security funding,” she said.

Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, added, “I guess Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry, but in terms of landmarks at risk and assets being targeted, nothing comes close to New York City.”

Besides Nashville, other cities eligible to compete for anti-terror funds were Anaheim, Calif., Bridgeport, Conn., Baton Rouge, La., Omaha, Neb., Toledo, Ohio, and Richmond, Va., according to the News.

Eventually, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, pared down the number of cities eligible for this money, allowing NYC to receive more funds.

It is a common practice for lawmakers to respond to a situation which mainly affects one or a few communities by spreading funds to other towns which do not need it for this purpose. That’s why state money is often allotted to wealthy as well as poor school districts.

On the federal level, we are stuck with a dual system of tradeoffs. All House members represent the same number of people, but senators can demand more because each state is represented by the same number of senators no matter what the population.  

As a result, senators from a large state must concede even more than they would if the Senate was based on proportionate representation.Senator Larry Craig of Idaho


Barbara Boxer and Larry Craig served in the Senate simultaneously for 16 years. Craig, first elected in 1990, retired in disgrace in 2008, after he made some unusual gestures to an undercover police officer in the next toilet stall at a Minneapolis airport restroom.

In her 2004 re-election bid, Boxer achieved bragging rights to winning more votes – 6.9 million – than any senator in American history. She certainly won more votes than many of our earlier presidents. Boxer’s accomplishment can probably be attributed to her staying power and the ongoing growth of her adopted state. Faced with an aggressive opponent in 2010, Boxer could not match her 2004 record, though she was still re-elected.

Minneapolis restroom where Senator Larry Craig was arrested.California’s population is now up to 36.9 million and Idaho is home to 1.5 million, yet Boxer and Craig exercised exactly the same level of clout from 1993 (when Boxer joined the Senate) to 2009.  As a reminder, members of Congress are elected in November during an even year and assume office in early January.

This contrast exemplifies, if to an extreme degree, that the constitutional requirement of two Senate seats for each state does not work in a democratic system. It allows all the less populous states to exercise far more clout than the bigger states.

In his book “How Democratic is the American Constitution?”, Yale professor emeritus Robert A. Dahl writes, “Because the votes of U.S. senators are counted equally, in 2000 the vote of a Nevada resident for the U.S. Senate was…worth about 17 times the vote of a California resident. Surely the inequality in representation it reveals is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens.”

Dahl’s book cites James Madison’s words: “The states were divided into different interests, not by their differences in size, but by other circumstances.”

Minority groups have long been impaired by this system. Dahl recounts that between 1800 and 1860 the House passed eight anti-slavery measures that were all defeated in the Senate. The South exploited its Senate power to end Reconstruction “and for another century it prevented the country from enacting federal laws to protect the most basic human rights of African Americans,” Dahl writes.

What more damage can be done if the Senate continues in its current form?

A recommendation to improve the system, detailed in a future chapter, would transform the operation from the equal number for each state to a more proportional method. The least populous states would lose one senator and senators in larger states would represent sections of each state. Depending on their size, some states would be authorized to elect more than two senators. On the surface, such changes must pass through the amendment process, which makes it appear impossible that it will ever happen.

More infuriating is the persistence of the filibuster rule which obstructs sensible legislation even more. It was born in folly and is protected in folly. We can safely compare treatment of the filibuster to Seinfeld’s Bizarro World.