House Approves $14.3B for Israel, Setting Up Senate Showdown

Republicans rejected President Biden’s request to pair Israeli aid with Ukraine funding

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Nov 03, 2023

Lawmakers in the U.S. House approved over $14 billion in new funding for the Israeli military Thursday, rejecting the White House request to pair the aid with assistance for Ukraine. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday approved $14.3 billion in additional military aid to Israel amid the nation’s ongoing war with Hamas, putting the chamber on a collision course with the Senate and White House as Wyoming officials appear split on the matter.

President Joe Biden had asked that the funding for Israel be paired with additional support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, but House GOP leaders instead opted to press forward with a standalone aid package. Republicans paired the new military dollars with cuts to domestic tax enforcement initiatives included in the Inflation Reduction Act, a break from the norm for supplemental funding packages that alienated many of the chamber’s Democrats.

[The measure] “provides Israel with the aid it needs to defend itself, free its hostages and eradicate Hamas, which is a mission that must be accomplished,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a news conference at the Capitol Thursday, his first remarks to press since he assumed the speakership last week. “We also work to ensure responsible spending and reduce the size of the federal government to pay for that commitment to our friend and ally.”

Though the bill passed on a bipartisan basis, 226-196, it garnered far less support than Israeli aid packages have historically, earning just a dozen Democratic votes. Citing “partisan poison pill offsets,” the White House threatened to veto the measure while Senators on both sides of the aisle have said they favor pairing the funding with additional support for Ukraine and border enforcement.

Despite opposition from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the Senate confirmed former Obama administration official Jacob Lew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

“The House GOP bill is woefully inadequate, and it has the hard right’s fingerprints all over it,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday. “It makes aid for Israel, who has just faced the worst terrorist attack in its history, contingent on poison pills that reward rich cat tax cheats.”

Despite its unlikely prospects in the Senate, Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) supported the measure, describing Israel as “our strongest ally in the Middle East” in a post-vote statement and suggesting “Islamic terrorism” is posing “a threat not only to their existence, but also to ours.”

She went on to boast that the measure provides funding “only for Israel, despite President Biden attempting to use the war in Gaza and surrounding areas to demand additional funding for Ukraine.”

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) has similarly expressed a desire to pursue Israeli aid separate from Ukraine. In a statement last month, she suggested the Biden administration “should not use the crisis in Israel – and our desire to help our strongest ally – to get additional funding for Ukraine across the finish line.”

“The wars we’re seeing unfold in both Israel and Ukraine are heartbreaking, but they are two separate conflicts, and the aid we give one country should not be contingent on another,” Lummis concluded.

But Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who historically has been a strong supporter of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, was less explicitly critical of the administration’s request to pair funding for the two nations. He notably declined to sign onto a letter from Lummis and eight GOP colleagues urging the administration to separate the aid requests, instead insisting any foreign aid package also include additional funding for border security.

“The border’s wide open. We’re set up for terrorism,” Barrasso said. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with whom Barrasso remains close, has been among the strongest Republican proponents of linking the funding.

Budget cuts that cost more?

Despite House Republicans’ insistence on pairing the Israeli aid with budget cuts, experts predict the proposed cuts would actually cost taxpayers more.

That’s because the funding was set to help the IRS with tax enforcement, thereby increasing government revenues. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the $14.3 billion cut would actually cost the government $26.8 billion in revenue and increase the federal deficit by $12.5 billion.

“At home, you have to balance your budget. At home, you have to make tough decisions, and Washington should run the same way,” Johnson told reporters. “If Democrats in the Senate or the House or anywhere else here 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.”

Democrats appeared eager and ready to heed his call.

“They’re seeking to condition life-saving aid to Israel for the sole purpose of making it easier for billionaires to cheat on their taxes,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday.

What happens now?

As Washington lawmakers bicker, the crisis in the Middle East only deteriorates.

Over 9,000 Palestinians have been killed since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, according to Thursday figures from the Gaza Health Ministry. And over 1,400 Israelis have died in the violence since then, Israeli authorities said, with 200 more taken hostage by Hamas militants. The vast majority of those deaths occurred during the initial attack.

In the coming days, Senate leaders are expected to put forward their own aid package which includes Israeli aid without the paired budget cuts, Ukraine funding and additional measures to improve security at the U.S.-Mexico border. But whether the chamber’s Republicans will support such a measure remains an open question.

Meanwhile, the White House scored a victory earlier this week after the Senate confirmed Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel, despite widespread opposition from Republicans.

Jacob Lew, a former White House chief of staff and Secretary of the Treasury during the Obama administration, was approved to take his post Tuesday with a 53-43 vote. All 51 Democrats supported him as did two Republicans — Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Both argued the need for an ambassador at this crucial time outweighed any criticisms they had.

But Barrasso, who serves on the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, emerged as a top critic of Lew during his confirmation hearings, alleging his involvement in the development of former President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and support for sending funds to the nation in exchange for the release of American prisoners was disqualifying.

“The massive influx of cash was ultimately a direct deposit into Iran’s terrorism account,” Barrasso said.

Lew, for his part, vigorously defended his actions, pointing to criticism he received from the Iranians at the time.

“They complained that my actions were what kept them from getting full access to the world financial system,” he said. “We did the letter of the J.C.P.O.A. [deal], nothing more.”

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