Two leading members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee have introduced legislation to extend the loan guarantee program for Israel. But the State Department's inspector general has opposed further guarantees under the program, which was wound up at the end of 2011.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla. ) and Howard Berman (D-Calif. ) introduced legislation last week to help Israel raise private funds at lower interest rates by utilizing U.S. guarantees.
The program was initiated in 2003 and extended in 2006 for five years. The new bill calls for an extension to run through the end of the fiscal year in 2015.
The original guarantees allowed for a total of $9 billion in borrowing, though this was to be reduced by the amount Israel spent on settlements in the territories. Israel has used only $4.1 billion of this amount so far, and the U.S. has reduced the total to $7.9 billion, leaving $3.8 billion in unused guarantees.
Israel has not issued bonds under the program in years, as its own credit ratings have risen, but that could change in times of financial crisis.
The guarantee provides borrowers, usually emerging market countries with poor credit ratings, with access to otherwise-closed international capital markets, while the guarantor extends financial support to a friendly trading partner at relatively low cost.
The U.S. State Department announced last month that it was making $30 million available for loan and bond guarantees to Tunisia; and Egypt may be interested in the program too.
While the State Department's inspector general recommended the program be terminated because Israel has evolved into a "modern, self-sufficient economy capable of supporting its citizens as an industrialized country," the Obama administration and hr State Separtment may support the extension.
Berman said in a statement that members of Congress "continue to stand with Israel to help safeguard its financial security."
"Just as we are committed to ensuring Israel's qualitative military edge, we must do what we can to protect Israel's economic strength so it is able to address the many security threats it currently faces," Berman said.
Ros-Lehtinen said: "As the threats to Israel continue to increase, the U.S. must continue to stand by our indispensable ally and ensure that it has the resources it needs to protect its security and prosperity. Congress will continue to stand foursquare with Israel and provide it, upon request, with loan guarantees that provide a key cushion of support in times of need, at no cost to the American taxpayer."
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