The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would send US$14.3 billion in emergency aid to Israel on a near party-line vote Thursday, but the White House has made clear the bill has no chance of becoming law.
Getting military aid to Israel as it responds to last month’s brutal attack by Hamas has become a political football despite broad bipartisan support for the U.S. ally. The bill introduced by House Republicans this week seeks to offset the aid with government spending cuts — a move not typically made with emergency funding requests — while also ignoring U.S. President Joe Biden’s request to link the aid with funding for Ukraine and other national security priorities.
After days of hinting that U.S. President Joe Biden would not sign a bill solely focused on Israel, the White House made that explicit on Thursday.
“The president would veto an Israel-only bill. I think we’ve made that clear,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at a briefing.
The bill passed on Thursday may not even make it that far. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has warned that the “stunningly unserious” bill has no chances in the Senate.
“Let me be clear: The Senate will not take up the House GOP’s deeply flawed proposal,” Schumer wrote on social media before the House vote.
He added the Senate intends to take up Biden’s original request for a nearly US$106-billion package that includes money for Israel, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific and U.S.-Mexico border security.
The House’s Israel bill promises to pay for the US$14.3 billion in aid by cutting the same amount from the Internal Revenue Services from funding that Democrats approved last year and Biden signed into law as a way to go after tax cheats, as well as modernizing the tax agency. Republicans have long claimed, without evidence, that the money would be used to hire armed agents that would go after middle-income taxpayers.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says doing that would end up costing the federal government a net US$12 billion because of lost revenue from tax collections, which Republicans have sought to downplay.
The highly partisan vote saw only 12 Democrats supporting it along with all but two Republicans. Democrats were feeling pressure from Jewish advocacy groups to support the bill anyway despite the IRS cuts.
Earlier this week, some Democratic lawmakers had predicted voting against the bill would allow Republicans to claim the party was against Israel, creating difficulties for members ahead of next year’s elections, and vowed they were “not going to take the bait.”
Democrats were also furious that the bill removed the humanitarian aid from Biden’s original request, which Republicans claimed would only end up in the hands of Hamas.
“Republicans are leveraging the excruciating pain of an international crisis to help rich people who cheat on their taxes and big corporations who regularly dodge their taxes,” said Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.
Rep. Dan Goldman of New York described hiding in a stairwell with his wife and children while visiting Israel as rockets were fired in what he called the most horrific attack on Jews since the Holocaust.
Despite noting the urgency of getting aid to Israel, Goldman said he opposed the Republican-led bill as a “shameful effort” to turn the conflict and the Jewish people into a political weapon.
“Support for Israel may be a political game for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” the Democrat said. “But this is personal for us Jews and it is existential for the one Jewish nation in the world that is a safe haven from the rising tide of antisemitism around the globe.”
New U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said the Republican package would provide Israel with the assistance needed to defend itself, free hostages held by Hamas and eradicate the militant Palestinian group, accomplishing “all of this while we also work to ensure responsible spending and reduce the size of the federal government.”
He told reporters earlier Thursday that he won’t consider any Israel aid bill that doesn’t include spending cuts, pointing to the rising federal debt.
“We want to protect and help and assist our friend Israel, but we have to keep our own house in order as well,” he said.
Johnson has said he will turn next to aid for Ukraine along with U.S. border security, preferring to address Biden’s requests separately as GOP lawmakers increasingly oppose aiding Kyiv.
The White House’s veto warning said Johnson’s approach “fails to meet the urgency of the moment” and would set a dangerous precedent by requiring future emergency funds to come from cuts elsewhere.
“This bill would break with the normal, bipartisan approach to providing emergency national security assistance,” the White House wrote in its statement of administration policy on the legislation. It said the GOP stance “would have devastating implications for our safety and alliances in the years ahead.”
—with files from the Associated Press