Challenges Ahead for New Speaker as House Passes Israel Aid

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In the first major legislative task under newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson, the House on Thursday approved a Republican plan to provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel in its war against Hamas. But by ignoring President Joe Biden’s request to pair it with aid for Ukraine, the House is heading for a collision with the Democratic-led Senate.

The House GOP bill, which passed 226-196, would provide military funding for Israel by cutting an equal amount in planned spending for tax enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an initiative that Biden championed as part of his signature Inflation Reduction Act. The measure now faces bipartisan opposition in the Senate, where most lawmakers favor packaging aid for Israel with money to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion. Biden had requested a $105 billion package that would couple aid for both countries and also bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border, security aid for Taiwan and a fund for humanitarian assistance in hot spots around the world. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate would not consider the House bill, deeming it a "deeply flawed proposal" during a floor speech on Thursday. He said the Senate would craft its own bipartisan bill containing aid for Israel and Ukraine, as well as humanitarian aid to Gaza, which was not included in the House GOP bill.

If House Republicans’ Israel aid bill faces almost certain defeat in the Senate, Johnson may find himself in a similar political bind to his Speaker predecessor Kevin McCarthy, caught between Democrats and the far-right members of his own party. McCarthy was booted from the speakership after working with Democrats to avert a government shutdown. If Johnson attempts to do the same, to pass aid for Israel or to stave off the next shutdown, he may risk the same fate. But if he doesn’t, he has little hope of passing legislation. 

Hardline Republicans have signaled that they may give Johnson more breathing room on fiscal issues than McCarthy, though the chamber is behind schedule on keeping the government funded and remains under urgent pressure to approve aid to Israel and Ukraine. 

“It still mystifies me that when the world is in crisis and we need to help Israel respond to Hamas, the 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,” Schumer said.

The House's decision to provide substantial aid to Israel comes as the nation continues to grapple with the conflict against Hamas, the militant group that carried out terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. Israel has since launched retaliatory attacks in Gaza and the death toll in the region is climbing.

Most of the funding in the GOP measure is intended to help Israel strengthen its weapons systems, including $4 billion to replenish the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems to counter short-range rocket threats. It also includes $200 million for enhancing the security presence at the U.S. Embassy and the evacuation of U.S. citizens. But the bill also leaves out humanitarian aid for Gaza, which Biden had requested and some Democrats consider a nonstarter. 

The vote on Thursday presented a difficult choice for many pro-Israel Democrats, who were eager to support Israel in its time of crisis but were hesitant to back a bill that omitted provisions for Ukraine and humanitarian aid, while targeting their domestic policy priorities. Still, a dozen Democrats voted in support of the House GOP bill, asserting the urgency of delivering aid to Israel without delay and setting the stage for a prolonged standoff with the Senate.

Johnson defended the legislation on Thursday, maintaining that the decision to pair the aid to Israel with spending cuts was a fiscal rather than political choice. "I did not attach that for political purposes,” he said at a press conference. “I attached it because, again, we're trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility here." The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office contradicted this reasoning, stating that the spending cuts proposed in the bill would increase the deficit by $12.5 billion over the next decade due to reduced revenue collections.

Johnson said the House would address a Ukraine aid package after dealing with Israel, but he also emphasized that it would need to be attached to stricter border security provisions, further complicating the prospects for Ukraine funding in Washington. "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... If we're going to take care of a border in Ukraine, we need to take care of America's border as well."

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