Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. (AFP)
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(Editor’s note: This column initially appeared in the Aug. 4 print edition of Defense News. The House had not yet voted on its Iron Dome funding measure when that edition went to press on Aug. 1.)
Few things in Washington provide as much intrigue and drama as the days before a lengthy congressional recess. In the current climate, infamously long congressional breaks are a double-edged sword.
There are simply too many jokes about Congress doing anything but legislating for weeks on end to repeat them all here.
But on the other hand, the week before a long congressional recess is one of the most productive ones for both chambers. Lawmakers last week at least flirted with getting a few things of consequence done.
They also provided some fireworks on their way out of town.
Something remarkable nearly went down as both chambers tried to address separate versions of an emergency spending bill. And for national security watchers, it was something of a stunner.
Republicans, as of early Aug. 1, were fine with leaving town for five weeks without helping Israel in its renewed conflict with Hamas.
House GOP leaders initially pushed a supplemental spending bill that excluded $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile system that was in the Senate’s version.
Some GOP members echoed what Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said July 31 on the Senate floor.
“I want to fund Israel. I want to supply them,” Coburn said, pleading for a budgetary offset for the funding. “I also want to make sure our children have a future. It is not hard to find $225 million out of $4 trillion.”
Make no mistake, the funding was on the brink.
Republicans’ willingness to leave July 31 without approving the Iron Dome funds showed just how much the Grand Old Party has changed, and how its policy priorities have shifted since the tea party rose in late 2010.
A recent Gallup poll concluded that 36 percent of Republicans surveyed pointed to business and economic issues as the most important to them politically. About the same number cited government spending and power as their top concerns.
“Fewer Republicans choose either social issues and moral values or national security and foreign policy as their top political priorities,” states a Gallup summary of the poll.
In fact, only 12 percent of Republicans said national security and foreign policy issues topped their lists — and that was down three percentage points from a version of the poll conducted earlier this year.
Last week, Republicans repeatedly put immigration policy — and not increasing the federal deficit —over standing beside America’s close ally.
While it was stunning to watch, a closer look shows what the GOP was ready to do on July 31 was in lock step with where GOP voters stand.
Tel Aviv may still get its requested Iron Dome dollars. But what the GOP was ready to do last week is just another reason Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the tea party darling, has to be considered the frontrunner to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. ■