House Passes $14.5B Stand-Alone Aid Bill for Israel

November 3, 2023 by Dan McCue
House Passes $14.5B Stand-Alone Aid Bill for Israel
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, surrounded by his security detail, leaves House Speaker Mike Johnson's office on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A divided House approved a $14.5 billion aid package for Israel on Thursday night, paving the way for a clash with Senate Democrats and the White House by excluding Ukraine funds from consideration and cutting money sought for the IRS. 

The 226-196 almost entirely party-line vote marks the first time a policy move by newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has come in direct conflict with the Biden administration.

Last month, the White House sent a $105 billion emergency funding request to Congress seeking additional money for Israel and Ukraine to aid their respective fights against Hamas and Russia, as well as additional funding to bolster border security and U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific. 

In a letter to Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., then-speaker pro tempore, White House budget chief Shalanda Young urged Congress to grant the request, saying, “the world is watching and the American people rightly expect their leaders to come together and deliver on these priorities.”

Last night’s passage of the bill also stands out because under other circumstances an Israel aid package would typically garner broad bipartisan support.

Almost as soon as he became House speaker, Johnson stripped the aid from Israel from the rest of the White House’s request, promising to bring the $61.4 billion the president is seeking for Ukraine and $13.6 billion for border security, to the House floor in short order.

“It will come next,” he told reporters at a Thursday morning briefing by House Republican leaders.

The move angered Democrats, who became even more incensed when House Republicans took a pay-go approach in parsing the bill to block the additional $80 billion in funding the IRS was slated to receive over the next 10 years under the auspices of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Widely advocated by fiscal conservatives, pay-go in a general sense means that any increase in spending be offset by a commensurate cut in existing expenditures.

The two parties have long been at loggerheads over the funding, with Democrats contending the money would help the agency better detect tax cheating and improve the selection of cases to audit, among other things, while Republicans insist it would only help to weaponize the agency and turn its enforcement power against hard-working Americans. 

This past spring, GOP members in the House succeeded in cutting more than $20 billion of the Inflation Reduction Act funding to the IRS as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

They went ahead and dropped the remaining $60 billion from consideration despite the fact the independent Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the elimination of the funds from the Israel bill could reduce the nation’s revenue by $26 billion over the next 10 years.

“If Democrats in the Senate or the House — or anyone else, anywhere else — want to argue that hiring more IRS agents is more important than standing with Israel in this moment, I’m ready to have that debate,” Johnson told reporters at Thursday’s news briefing.

“But I did not attach that for political purposes,” he said. “I attached it because again, we’re trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility here, and that was the easiest and largest pile of money that was sitting there for us to be able to pay for this immediate obligation.”

The House vote immediately set up a showdown with the Democratically controlled Senate, where members of both parties have indicated they would support a bill much closer to the one the White House requested.

In a speech on the floor of the Senate chamber ahead of the House vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the Israel aid bill as “unserious and woefully inadequate.”

“Speaker Johnson said he wanted to pay for it. He insists that emergency funding for Israel has to be paid for, when we usually don’t pay for emergency funding. But the hypocrisy here is that by cutting funding to go after tax cheats, he will actually explode the deficit by billions and billions of dollars. What a joke,” Schumer said.

He went on to say the Senate would not take up the “deeply flawed” House proposal at all, and would instead craft its own bipartisan bill containing aid for Israel and Ukraine, and humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“It still mystifies me that at a moment when the world is in crisis — at a time when we need to help Israel to respond to Hamas — the House GOP thought it was a good idea to tie Israel aid to a hard right proposal that will raise the deficit and is totally, totally partisan, all the while helping wealthy tax cheats get away scot-free,” Schumer said. 

“Why would they make support for Israel conditional on this hard right giveaway to the wealthy? It’s truly astounding, and it shows you how weak and unserious — and what a joke, frankly — the House GOP proposal is.”

Johnson’s decision to advance the Israel aid bill also appears to put him in direct conflict with his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

McConnell has been a staunch supporter of more aid for Ukraine and acknowledged as recently as this week that he’s “generally in the same place” as the White House and congressional Democrats when it comes to the idea of bundling aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Where McConnell differs with the White House is mainly over the domestic policy aspects of the supplemental funding request.

“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,” McConnell said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the White House has already said the president will veto the House bill in the unlikely event that it reaches his desk in its present form.

In a written statement released on Oct. 31, the White House Office of Management and Budget said, “the administration strongly opposes House passage of [the] Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“As demonstrated by the president’s recent supplemental funding request, the administration strongly supports providing resources for key national security priorities, including aid for our ally Israel as it defends itself against Hamas terrorists,” the statement said. 

“But rather than putting forward a package that strengthens American national security in a bipartisan way, the bill fails to meet the urgency of the moment by deepening our divides and severely eroding historic bipartisan support for Israel’s security,” the White House continued. 

“It inserts partisanship into support for Israel, making our ally a pawn in our politics, at a moment we must stand together. It denies humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations around the world, including Palestinian civilians, which is a moral and strategic imperative.

“And by requiring offsets for this critical security assistance, it sets a new and dangerous precedent by conditioning assistance for Israel, further politicizing our support and treating one ally differently from others,” the statement says, adding, “This bill is bad for Israel, for the Middle East region and for our own national security.”

Despite the House vote, the OMB said the Biden administration will continue to engage with both chambers of Congress in a bipartisan manner “to secure an agreement on the critical national security package transmitted to Congress a few weeks ago.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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