House Republicans on Thursday approved a $14.3 billion aid package for Israel, setting the stage for a fierce showdown with Democrats in the Senate and White House who have savaged the GOP bill for excluding Ukraine funds and cutting IRS coffers.
The 226-196 vote fell almost entirely along party lines, with 12 Democrats joining all but two Republicans to move the bill through the lower chamber.
The Democratic opposition extends to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced earlier Thursday that his chamber would not take up the “deeply flawed proposal.” Instead, he’s vowing to work with senators in both parties on a package that includes funding for Israel, Ukraine, competition with the Chinese government and humanitarian aid for Gaza.
The Biden administration has threatened to veto the House’s legislation, arguing in a statement that it is “bad for Israel, for the Middle East region, and for our own national security.”
The vote, nonetheless, marks an early victory for newly installed Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who is seeking to unify a warring GOP conference in the wake of last month’s bitter vote to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the three-week battle to replace him.
The aid package was Johnson’s first big legislative effort as Speaker. And it provided a preview of how Johnson — the mild-mannered Louisiana lawmaker who skyrocketed to the Speakership amid GOP chaos — plans to steer the House through a number of legislative lifts in the weeks and months to come.
Johnson’s decision to isolate the Israel funding — and marry it to IRS cuts — was an olive branch to conservatives wary of deficits and overseas spending, and it united virtually all of his conference. Reps. Thomas Masssie (R-Ky.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) were the only Republicans to oppose the measure, citing concerns about U.S. encroachment in foreign affairs and the cost to American taxpayers.
But the GOP’s tactics have also complicated the path for getting the Israel aid to Biden’s desk, pushing the Senate onto its own strategic path — a path Johnson has warned can’t pass the House — and raising new questions about how the feuding chambers will find compromise almost a month after Hamas’s deadly attacks.
Highlighting the bicameral divide, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been cold to the House legislation, arguing instead to combine the Israel and Ukraine aid into one package. Johnson said Thursday that House consideration of Ukraine aid “will come next,” and reiterated that he wants to pair funding for Kyiv with U.S. border security.
From the White House, President Biden is pushing a much larger $106 billion emergency aid package that features funding for Israel, Ukraine, border security and allies in the Indo-Pacific. But growing GOP resistance to funding for Kyiv — and opposition to linking support for the two U.S. allies — drove House GOP leaders to break up the package and move Israel aid as a standalone bill. Johnson this week warned GOP senators that a larger package would not pass through the lower chamber.
House Republicans’ measure pairs the $14.3 billion in foreign aid with the same amount in cuts to IRS funding that was approved in the Democrats’ marquee spending bill — dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act — last year.
Republicans hailed the package as a way to control deficit spending. The Congressional Budget Office, however, estimated that the IRS cuts — by eroding the agency’s auditing resources — would add billions of dollars to the federal debt.
The IRS provision sparked howls from Democrats, who accused Johnson and GOP lawmakers of trying to set a political trap by daring liberals to back Israel or side with the IRS — and, as an added layer, chip away at Biden’s signature legislative achievement.
Hamas’s attack on Israel last month has highlighted the long-established Democratic divisions over Middle East policy, pitting pro-Israel lawmakers, who are supportive of the nation’s efforts to defend itself, against pro-Palestinian liberals, who have charged Israeli leaders with human rights abuses and war crimes in Gaza.
But the inclusion of IRS cuts in the Israel aid bill — and exclusion of humanitarian aid for Gaza — united both groups, prompting even some of Israel’s staunchest Democratic allies to oppose the package.
Several Democrats, in addition to the White House, have pointed out that emergency funding does not typically include offsets.
“In my worst nightmares, I never thought I would be asked to vote for a bill cynically conditioning aid to Israel on ceding to the partisan demands of one party,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), another ardent Israel supporter, said shortly before he voted against the bill.
Despite those qualms, a dozen Democrats voted for the legislation, emphasizing the importance of standing beside Israel amid its war against Hamas.
Democratic Reps. Angie Craig (Minn.), Don Davis (N.C.), Lois Frankel (Fla.), Jared Golden (Maine), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Greg Landsman (Ohio), Jared Moskowitz (Fla.), Darren Soto (Fla.), Haley Stevens (Mich.), Juan Vargas (Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Frederica Wilson (Fla.) supported the bill.
Still, many of them were not happy about it.
“Speaker Johnson is willingly jeopardizing Israel’s security by making support for Israeli assistance contingent on issues totally unrelated to its security,” Wasserman Schultz declared on the House floor during debate Thursday. “He’s taken an unprecedented step, and one with potentially fatal consequences.”
The Democratic “yes” votes trickled in towards the end of the vote — when it became clear that the bill could pass with only GOP support — which Moskowitz said was discussed as a strategy among the Democrats who considered backing the bill.
Johnson, for his part, rejected the notion that he tied the Israel aid to spending cuts as a political play, insisting that the move was intended to “get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility.”
“If Democrats in the Senate or the House — or anyone else, anywhere else — 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,” Johnson told reporters Thursday. “But I did not attach that for political purposes.”
Updated at 6:57 p.m.