U.S. House Republicans are moving ahead with legislation that would send billions of dollars in aid to Israel but ignores the White House’s request to include billions more for Ukraine and other national security concerns.
Notably, the bill unveiled Monday would offset the US$14.3 billion in additional military and humanitarian funding by stripping the same amount from the Internal Revenue Service. That condition sets up a fight with the White House and Senate Democrats, who argue it would set a dangerous precedent allowing lawmakers to hold international aid hostage for domestic political priorities.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there should be no need to offset supplemental emergency funding and underscored the importance of tying funding for Israel and Ukraine together.
“There’s no reason why we, as the United States of America, cannot make sure that Israel and also Ukraine has the funding that they need,” she told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNN the IRS cuts make the prospects of getting the House bill passed “much harder.” He urged House Republicans to act on the nearly $106-billion request from President Joe Biden that includes money for Israel and Ukraine, as well as for Taiwan and the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We should be doing it all together: Israel, Ukraine, South Pacific,” he said.
The decision to push a standalone funding bill for Israel that also seeks to balance Washington’s chequebook underscores the priorities of House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans to manage government spending, and sends a clear message of support for the Israelis as they respond to Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7.
The House was unable to take action in the immediate aftermath of the attack as the chamber was without a speaker, who is in charge of setting votes on legislation. Johnson was finally elected on Wednesday, just over three weeks after his predecessor Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted.
The House Republican bill matches the amount of money set aside for Israel in Biden’s original request, which included far more — US$60 billion — for Ukraine.
Johnson told Fox News on Sunday he planned to bring a standalone Israel funding bill to a vote this week. The House is currently in recess and is scheduled to return Wednesday evening.
So far, his commitment to Ukraine has been far less specific.
“There are lots of things going on around the world that we have to address and we will,” Johnson said on Sunday in the Fox News interview, without explicitly mentioning Ukraine. “But right now what’s happening in Israel takes the immediate attention, and we’ve got to separate that and get it through.”
In another Fox News interview on Thursday, Johnson insisted Congress is “not going to abandon” Ukraine, but added he wanted more information about the Biden administration’s strategy for that conflict.
“We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there,” Johnson said, referring to the Russian president. But he said, “We must stand with our important ally in the Middle East and that’s Israel.”
Biden and the White House have drawn parallels between Hamas and Putin, accusing both of trying to “annihilate” a neighbouring democracy. Tying those issues together, along with Taiwan and border security, was meant to ensure broad bipartisan support and swift passage.
The outsized funding request for Ukraine is seen as crucial by the Biden administration and both Democratic and Republican senators, who want to ensure the besieged country can access additional weapons to counter Russia as the war enters a second brutal winter and, ultimately, a third year of violence.
“Enemies abroad will be watching closely and waiting for America to falter,” Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday at an event in his home state of Kentucky, according to remarks released by his office. “Only our concrete and credible support can deter our adversaries in the future and restore security.”
Experts have predicted Ukraine has little chance of continuing an offensive push without U.S. weapons and aid, predicting an eventual stalemate or even a forced peace agreement that could benefit Russia.
Why cut IRS funding?
The IRS funding meant to offset the Israel aid in the House bill has long been targeted by Republicans.
Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act included about US$80 billion over 10 years for the IRS. The federal tax agency says it will be spent on modernizing its services, hiring more customer service workers and strengthening its ability to audit high-earning taxpayers, including going after potential tax cheats.
Republicans have seized on that last priority and claim, without evidence, that the IRS plans to hire tens of thousands of armed agents to go after middle-income taxpayers. The IRS and the Biden administration have denied that is happening.
Last spring, shortly after winning their narrow majority in the House, Republicans passed legislation that would claw back the IRS funding meant for auditing. It was not passed by the Senate and Biden had vowed to veto the measure.
In a statement Monday, Jean-Pierre accused Republicans of “playing political games that threaten the source of funding for Israel’s self-defence,” which she said would “set an unacceptable precedent that calls our commitment to one of our closest allies into question.”
Hard-line Republicans, however, appeared to celebrate the political conundrum the bill creates.
“(Johnson) is going to make (lawmakers) choose between the IRS or supporting our greatest ally against an unprovoked terror attack on their soil. I think it’s an easy choice, quite honestly,” Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Fox News.
Some Democrats on Monday were already making clear they plan to vote in favour of the bill despite the proposed offsets.
“I am not going to take the bait,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida said on social media site X. “There are American hostages. This is not a game.”
—with files from the Associated Press