Speaker Mike Johnson’s decision to force a standalone vote on aid to Israel, peeling off a Biden administration request for money from Ukraine and tying it to budget cuts, has sparked a showdown between the House of Representatives and Senate on how to finance the US. allies during the conflicts.
Mr. Johnson, the Louisiana Republican who personally voted against sending military aid to Kiev, released a $14 billion aid bill for Israel on Monday. It includes a provision that would rescind the same amount that was earmarked for the Internal Revenue Service as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, a key part of President Biden’s agenda.
Mr. Biden has asked Congress to approve a $105 billion aid package for Israel and Ukraine that also includes money for Taiwan and border security in the United States. But Mr. Johnson rejected that request, recognizing how toxic funding for Ukraine has become under Republicans.
And while a bill to help fund Israel in its war against Hamas would likely have attracted an overwhelming bipartisan vote, Mr. Johnson went a step further by introducing a provision that would make a top priority of Mr. Biden and Democrats rollbacks, which experts said would increase the national debt.
In an interview Tuesday on Fox News’s “Outnumbered,” Mr. Johnson conceded that the provision could erode bipartisan support for the relief package, but essentially challenged Democrats to vote against aid for Israel.
“If you put this to the American people and weigh the two needs, I think they will say that supporting Israel and protecting the innocent is a more immediate need than IRS agents,” Mr. Johnson said.
The decision puts the House of Representatives on a collision course with the White House and the Democratic-held Senate, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers has demanded that Congress pass legislation to address both conflicts simultaneously.
“Rather than advancing a package that strengthens American national security in a bipartisan manner, the bill falls short of the urgency of the moment by deepening our divisions and seriously eroding historic bipartisan support for Israel’s security ,” White House officials said in a policy statement. Tuesday evening there is a threat of a veto of the bill written by the Republicans. “It adds partisanship to support for Israel, making our ally a pawn in our politics at a time when we need to stand together.”
Earlier, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, said in a speech from the Senate: “I hope the new chairman realizes this is a serious mistake and quickly changes course.”
Mr. Johnson appears to have structured Israeli legislation in an effort to keep his conference, deeply divided over the financing of foreign wars, united in the early days of his speakership. Hanging over him is the knowledge that his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, was ousted after passing two bills – one to avert the first national debt and the other to prevent a shutdown – that failed to pass the majority of his House were supported. Republicans.
Already, two Republicans, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, have said they would oppose the standalone $14 billion bill for Israel.
“The United States government should focus on spending Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars on our own country and serve the American people, NOT the rest of the world,” Ms. Greene wrote on social media.
Including a measure to withdraw money from the IRS — an idea popular among conservatives who vilified Mr. Biden’s landmark health, climate and tax law — would effectively eliminate the debt, according to previous analyzes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office enlarge. Steven Ellis, the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, denounced it as a “cynical ploy that risks crippling the IRS.”
And Maya MacGuineas, the chairwoman of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement that while the House’s call to offset Israel’s military spending with cuts was “welcome news,” paying for it “by increasing tax enforcement debunking is worse than not paying for it at all.”
“Instead of costing $14 billion, the House bill will increase the debt by more than $30 billion. Instead of avoiding new borrowing, this plan doubles it,” Ms MacGuineas said.
It also all but guarantees that the legislation will be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where even leading Republicans have said they favor the Biden administration’s strategy to link Ukraine and Israel financing.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader who has been his party’s most outspoken advocate for funding the war in Ukraine, has doubled down on his aggressive support for sending U.S. aid to help the country fend off a Russian invasion.
“The threats America and our allies face are serious and intertwined,” he said Tuesday. “If we ignore that fact, we do so at our peril.”
He added Tuesday that while he and Mr. Schumer were “conceptually on the same page” on tying aid to Ukraine and Israel, Democrats would have to swallow “strong border provisions” to win Republican votes.
On Monday, as House Republicans finalized their bill to direct security aid only to Israel, Mr. McConnell was in Kentucky, hosting Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, at a forum on the University of Louisville, where he embraced the approach Mr. Johnson had.
“Some say our support for Ukraine comes at the expense of more important priorities. But as I have said every time I have the chance, this is a false choice,” he said, calling for “swift and decisive action.”
Some other leading Republicans in the Senate have been even more explicit about rejecting Mr. Johnson’s approach.
“Some have advocated detying funding to address these threats,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday at the start of a hearing with top administration officials to review the request for the national to discuss Mr. Biden’s security spending. “We must recognize that our national security interests are being aggressively challenged by all these authoritarian actors in an effort to dismantle the international order we established after World War II.”
But some Senate Republicans have backed away.
“I’m afraid that as we talk about Ukraine and the border, about Taiwan and Gaza, what’s realistically going to happen is that we’re going to run into the government funding deadline,” said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, referring to a November 2011 report .17 cutoff for government funding. “And then it becomes a huge transaction. So we all agree about Israel. Let’s just move Israel.”
Mr. Hawley added: If Mr. McConnell “thinks he can make a case against Ukraine, fine, go for it. I suspect you could get the aid to Ukraine passed, probably as a standalone bill. So he’s welcome to do that. I would just like to say: let’s not hold Israel back.”
During the hearing, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the panel’s chairman, sought to enlist top administration officials to counter Republican arguments against bundling all security spending into one big bill.
“Russia and Iran are increasingly working together to challenge our leadership, to include us globally,” said Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who met with Mr. Johnson on Tuesday. “If we start peeling back pieces of this package, they will see it. They will understand that we are playing a game, while they are increasingly working together.”
Zach Montague reporting contributed.