In a significant move, the House has approved a $14.5 billion military aid package for Israel in response to the conflict with Hamas. However, the partisan approach taken by new Speaker Mike Johnson has injected controversy into the situation, creating a direct challenge for Democrats and President Joe Biden.
Johnson’s departure from the norm involves offsetting the emergency aid with cuts in government spending elsewhere, reflecting the conservative stance of the new House GOP leadership. This approach transformed what is usually a bipartisan vote into a divisive issue, with 12 Democrats joining most Republicans in the 226-196 approval vote.
The Republican package, according to Johnson, aims to provide Israel with the necessary assistance for self-defense, hostage release, and the elimination of Hamas. Democrats argue that this approach could only delay aid for Israel, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has labeled the bill as “stunningly unserious” with little chance of success in the Senate.
The legislation, the first significant effort in Congress to support Israel during the conflict, falls considerably short of Biden’s request for nearly $106 billion, which also includes support for Ukraine, countering China, and addressing border security.
This bill represents Johnson’s initial test as House speaker following the ousting of Rep. Kevin McCarthy. The White House has issued a veto warning, criticizing Johnson’s approach for failing to meet the moment’s urgency and setting a dangerous precedent by requiring emergency funds to come from cuts elsewhere.
While the House bill’s funding for Israel aligns with Biden’s request, the absence of humanitarian assistance for Gaza in the Republican plan is deemed a “grave mistake” by the White House. Biden has called for a pause in the war for relief efforts.
The vote revealed division among Democrats, with the White House directly appealing to lawmakers, particularly Jewish Democrats, to reject the bill. Despite the difficulty for some lawmakers, especially Democrats, torn between supporting Israel and explaining the trade-offs to constituents, the bill passed.
To fund the aid package, House Republicans have attached provisions cutting billions from the IRS, which was approved by Democrats last year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a net cost of $12.5 billion to the federal government due to lost revenue from tax collections.
Republicans dispute this assessment, emphasizing the package’s support for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, advanced weaponry procurement, and military needs. The total cost of the aid package, including revenue reduction, exceeds $26 billion.
Democrats, during the floor debate, urged Republicans to restore the humanitarian aid requested by Biden, criticizing the politicization of traditionally bipartisan support for Israel. The Republicans’ attack on Democrats questioning Israel’s war tactics as antisemitic has added another layer of tension to the debate.
In the Senate, Schumer clarified that the House bill would be rejected. Instead, the Senate aims to work on its bipartisan emergency aid package, including support for Israel and Ukraine, humanitarian assistance for Gaza, and efforts to confront China.
In a separate action, the House overwhelmingly approved a Republican-led resolution condemning support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and terrorist organizations on college campuses concerning the Israel-Hamas war.
Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Amir Levy / Stringer
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