U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., center, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., right, and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., far right, at a Capitol press conference on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday approved a $14.3 billion spending bill to aid Israel in its war against Hamas, but the measure stands no chance of passing the Senate and has elicited a veto threat from the White House.
The 14-page bill, one of the first major tests for newly elected GOP Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, doesn’t include additional funding for Ukraine, Taiwan or the U.S. Southern border — all of which the Biden administration requested last month.
House debate on the Israeli spending bill fell largely along party lines, as did the 226-196 vote to approve the legislation. Two Republicans, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, voted against the bill while 12 Democrats voted for it.
The House GOP proposed paying for the new spending for Israel by cutting an equal amount of funding for the Internal Revenue Service that Democrats included in their signature climate change and health care package in 2022.
But several organizations, including the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said that so-called “pay for” would actually increase the federal deficit by at least $12 billion by eroding the IRS’ ability to enforce that everyone pays their taxes.
Ultimately, Johnson will need to negotiate a bipartisan, bicameral spending package with the three other congressional leaders and President Joe Biden. That will be a new experience for Johnson in his debut as speaker.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on the floor Wednesday the House’s Israel aid bill was a “joke” that “needlessly politicizes aid to Israel.”
“It’s utterly baffling, baffling that at a moment that demands maximum bipartisanship — when the country is in crisis and our friends in Israel and Ukraine are in crisis — that the House GOP is instead trying to pick an egregiously partisan fight over wealthy tax cheats,” Schumer said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who staunchly supports more aid for Ukraine, dismissed Johnson’s decision to exclude aid for Ukraine, Taiwan and the U.S.-Mexico border from this spending bill.
“In order to make a law, it has to pass both bodies and be signed by the president,” McConnell said Tuesday, after noting that “conceptually” he and Schumer are in the same place on how to construct the bill.
But McConnell said, “Democrats will have to accept a really serious U.S.-Mexico border protection bill in order to get our people on board for a comprehensive approach.”
House wants Ukraine, border aid separate
Johnson said Thursday during a press conference that House Republicans will insist on paying for additional aid to Israel, rather than using emergency funding that does not have to be offset by cuts, saying it’s an “important principle.”
“We want to protect and help and assist our friend Israel, but we have to keep our own house in order as well,” Johnson said. “And I think people at home, the American people, understand that.”
Johnson said he’s made that clear to Biden and several Cabinet secretaries as well as Senate Republicans.
Johnson also seemed determined to separate aid for Israel from a spending package for Ukraine and U.S. border security.
“Ukraine will come in short order, it will come next,” Johnson said. “And you’ve heard me say that we want to pair border security with Ukraine because I think we can get bipartisan agreement on both of those matters.”
Johnson said he and House Republicans feel strongly that the United States can meet its obligations around the world, “but we have to take care of our own house first.”
“As long as the border’s wide open, we’re opening ourselves up to great threat and again it’s just a matter of principle — if we’re going to take care of a border in Ukraine, we need to take care of America’s border as well,” Johnson said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before a Senate committee earlier this week that not providing significant support for both Israel and Ukraine would have negative repercussions for U.S. national security.
‘Israel has a right to defend itself’
During House debate on Thursday, Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack urged members to “reject the demands for the perfect and instead support the good” in the bill.
“Israel has a right to defend itself, it needs the freedom of action to do so,” Womack said. “We did not accept arbitrary restrictions on our actions following 9/11 nor should we place any restrictions on Israel’s response.”
Womack said after aid to Israel is enacted, the House would bring up legislation to assist Ukraine.
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum criticized Republicans for not including aid to Ukraine or humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza in the spending bill.
“The United States faces two immense national security crises at one time — Russia’s illegal and unjust invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s military response to the barbaric Hamas attacks on Oct. 7,” McCollum said.
For the security of both Palestinians and Israelis, McCollum said, the violence “must stop and all hostages must be released.”
“And we must work with the United Nations and regional partners on a cease fire that holds every party accountable,” McCollum said. “Until then, declared safe areas must be truly safe for civilians fleeing violence.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said the legislation is essential to ensure Israel’s sovereignty and safety.
“We have seen the atrocities in Israel. We have always stood with Israel,” Scalise said.
Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer said that Republicans, instead of working on a bipartisan bill, “constructed a political gotcha bill.”
“The majority tries to score political points at the expense of Jewish lives and the confidence of both our allies and enemies in our resolve and reliability,” Hoyer said. “They undermine the critical aid for Israel with their misguided attacks on the IRS.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report before House debate began that clawing back $14.3 billion in IRS funding would reduce tax revenue by $26.786 billion for a net increase to the deficit of $12.498 billion during the next decade.
The Biden administration issued a veto threat on the House’s bill, saying “the bill fails to meet the urgency of the moment by deepening our divides and severely eroding historic bipartisan support for Israel’s security.”
“It inserts partisanship into support for Israel, making our ally a pawn in our politics, at a moment we must stand together,” the White House said in the Statement of Administration Policy. “It denies humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations around the world, including Palestinian civilians, which is a moral and strategic imperative.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.