Johnson’s Israel Aid Bill sets the stage for a conflict over security aid

President Mike Johnson’s decision to force a stand-alone vote on aid to Israel, removing the Biden administration’s request for money from Ukraine and pairing it with spending cuts, has led to a standoff between the House and Senate over how to fund US allies during the conflict.

Mr. Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana who personally voted against sending military aid to Kiev, announced a $14 billion aid bill for Israel on Monday. That includes a provision that would eliminate the same amount of money earmarked for the IRS as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, a key part of President Biden’s agenda.

Mr. Biden has asked Congress to pass a $105 billion aid package for Israel and Ukraine that also has funds for Taiwan and border security in the United States. But Mr. Johnson rejected that request, in an acknowledgment of how toxic funding for Ukraine has become among Republicans.

And while a bill to help finance Israel’s war against Hamas would likely garner an overwhelming majority of bipartisan votes, Mr. Johnson went a step further, inserting a provision that would undo a top priority of Mr. Biden and the Democrats that experts said would increase the state’s debt.

In an interview Tuesday on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” Mr. Johnson acknowledged that the provision could erode bipartisan support for the aid package, but essentially dared Democrats to vote against supporting Israel.

“If you put this to the American people and weigh the two needs, I think they will say that standing with Israel and protecting the innocent is more urgent than IRS agents,” Mr. Johnson said.

The decision puts the House at odds with the Democratic-held White House and Senate, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers has demanded Congress pass legislation to resolve both conflicts at the same time.

“Instead of putting forth a package that strengthens America’s national security in a bipartisan way, the bill fails to meet the urgency of the moment by deepening our divisions and seriously undermining historic bipartisan support for Israel’s security,” White House officials said in a policy statement Tuesday night, threatening to veto to a bill written by Republicans. “It introduces a bias in support of Israel, making our ally a pawn in our politics, at a time when we must stand together.”

Earlier, speaking from the floor of the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said: “I hope that the new speaker will realize that this is a grave mistake and will quickly reverse course.”

Mr. Johnson appears to have structured the Israeli legislature in an effort to unite his conference, which is deeply divided over the financing of foreign wars, in the early days of his speakership. He is looming over the knowledge that his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, was ousted after he passed two bills — one to prevent the nation’s first debt default and another to prevent a shutdown — that did not have the support of a majority in his House. Republicans.

Already, two Republicans, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, have said they will oppose the $14 billion stand-alone Israel bill.

“The United States government should focus on spending hard earned US tax dollars on our country and should serve the American people NOT the rest of the world,” Ms Greene wrote on social media.

Including a measure to pull money from the IRS — an idea popular among conservatives who have railed against Biden’s landmark health, climate and tax bills — would actually increase the debt, according to previous analyzes by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Steven Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, condemned it as “a cynical ploy that risks crippling the IRS.”

And Maya MacGuineas, chairwoman of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement that while the House’s call to offset military spending for Israel through spending cuts is “welcome news,” paying for it “with a tax deduction is worse than not paying for it at all.” at all.”

“Instead of costing $14 billion, the House bill will add more than $30 billion to the debt. Instead of avoiding new borrowing, this plan doubles it,” Ms. MacGuineas said.

It also guarantees that the bill will be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where even leading Republicans have said they support the Biden administration’s strategy of tying funding to Ukraine and Israel.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader who has been his party’s loudest advocate for funding the war in Ukraine, has redoubled his aggressive support for sending US aid to help the country fight the Russian invasion.

“The threats facing America and our allies are serious and intertwined,” he said on Tuesday. “If we ignore that fact, we do so at our own peril.”

He added on 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 send security aid only to Israel, Mr. McConnell was in Kentucky, hosting Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, at a forum at the University of Louisville, where he criticized the approach taken by Mr. Johnson.

“Some say that our support for Ukraine comes at the expense of more important priorities. But as I have said every time I get the chance, this is the wrong choice,” he said, calling for “swift and decisive action.”

Some other leading Senate Republicans were even more explicit in their rejection of Mr. Johnson’s approach.

“Some have argued for defunding 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 discuss Mr. Biden’s request for a national security. “We must recognize that all of these authoritarian actors are aggressively challenging our national security interests in an effort to dismantle the international order we established after World War II.”

But some Republicans in the Senate refused.

“I’m concerned that if we’re talking about Ukraine and the border and Taiwan and Gaza, what’s going to realistically happen is we’re going to face a deadline for funding the government,” said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, referring to the Nov. 17 cutoff for government funding. “And then it will be a huge transaction. So we all agree on Israel. Let’s just move Israel.”

Mr. Hawley added: If Mr. McConnell “thinks he can make a case in Ukraine, fine, so be it. I guess you can pass aid to Ukraine, probably as a stand-alone bill here. So he is welcome to do so. I would just say, let’s not hold Israel back.”

During the hearing, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s chairwoman, tried to enlist top administration officials to counter Republican arguments against bundling all security spending into one big bill.

“Increasingly, Russia and Iran are working together to challenge our leadership, to contain us globally,” said Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who met with Mr. Johnson on Tuesday. “If we start peeling back the pieces of this package, they will see it. They will understand that we are playing back-a-mole, and they will cooperate more and more.”

Zach Montague contributed to the reporting.

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