New Speaker Johnson Quickly Picks a Fight with President Biden and Senate
It didn’t take long for newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson to pick a fight with President Biden and the Senate. Appealing to his hard right GOP caucus members, Johnson is advancing a stand-alone $14.3 billion aid package with Israel and offsetting the expenditure by an equivalent spending cut for the Internal Revenue Service. Johnson was elected five days ago.
The move sets the stage for a political showdown that potentially will delay aid to Israel and leave further aid to Ukraine up in the air. Johnson defenders said the move is aimed at holding together his fragile Republican support so soon after his election as Speaker.
Biden requested a $106 billion supplemental spending request that tied together aid to Israel and Ukraine, as well we with funding to bolster southern border controls and Indo-Pacific interests. The inclusion of money for border control was Biden’s attempt to offer a conciliatory approach to Republicans.
Johnson has signaled in press interviews he is open to further aid to Ukraine, telling Fox News “we’re not going to abandon them,” even though he has previously voted against funding for Ukraine. His insistence on “bifurcating” aid to Israel and Ukraine is most likely his way to appease his hard-right colleagues and justify the claw-back of money approved for the IRS in last year’s congressional reconciliation measure.
In the same Fox News interview, Johnson dared Democrats by saying, “If you put this to the American people and weigh the two needs, I think they will say standing with Israel and protecting the innocent is a more immediate need than I.R.S. agents.”
House Rules is scheduled to consider the stand-alone Israeli aid bill today, which could put the bill on the House floor this week.
After Johnson revealed his hand, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a Senate vote on Biden’s full funding request. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed support for linking Israeli and Ukrainian emergency aid in a single package. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified on Capitol Hill that supporting both Israel and Ukraine is an important signal to American adversaries.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on House Appropriations, said delinking aid for Israel from a broader bill will only serve to delay getting aid to Israel. She also raised a concern over the precedent of tying emergency aid to equivalent spending cuts. “House Republicans are setting a dangerous precedent by suggesting that protecting national security or responding to natural disasters is contingent on cuts to other programs.”
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, offered a blunter assessment. “When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t haggle over the price of the garden hose. Speaker Johnson’s political games are offensive to all pro-Israel Americans, and I hope he reverses course immediately.”
“When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t haggle over the price of the garden hose.”
Details of Israeli Aid Measure
The Israel aid package Johnson is bringing forward has largely the same funding breakdown as Biden requested – $10.6 billion to replenish Israel’s air and missile defense systems, with the remaining $3.7 billion going to the State Department for foreign military financing and embassy support.
Of the $10.6 billion, $4.4 billion would backfill Defense Department weapon stockpiles, reimburse the Pentagon for military education and training for Israel and $1.35 billion for an “Iron Beam” system, a high-energy laser weapon system to intercept short-range enemy rockets. The Iron Beam is a cheaper complement to the more expensive Iron Dome system.
The State Department funding includes $3.5 billion for foreign military financing, $150 million for diplomatic efforts and $50 million for emergency evacuation of U.S. government personnel and citizens from Israel.
The House bill doesn’t include any humanitarian aid. Biden’s request included $9.15 billion for humanitarian aid in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine and elsewhere.
The emergency funding measure also would require Defense and State department leaders to share unclassified reports detailing U.S. security assistance provided since the Hamas attack on Israel October 7.
The IRS claw-back singles out the agency’s enforcement division and its multi-state test program on government-run, free federal income tax filing.