House Speaker Johnson’s Israel Aid Bill Faces Strong Senate Opposition

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Mike Johnson’s new Israel aid proposal ran into a wall of bipartisan Senate opposition Tuesday, creating a high-stakes standoff for the new speaker as he seeks to unite fractious House Republicans.

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Senators and Biden administration officials warned the GOP gambit to push through Israel aid and hold off on assistance for Ukraine threatens to stymie urgently needed funding to two US allies.

Hardline Republicans have opposed sending fresh aid to Ukraine, compelling Johnson to ignore for now the White House’s request for $61 billion for Ukraine and $9 billion in humanitarian assistance. But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned senators on Tuesday that failure to send billions in new US aid to Ukraine could pave the way for a Russian victory in the country.

The US House plans to vote Thursday on Johnson’s $14 billion Israel aid package, which is tied to cuts to the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement and operations budgets.

Johnson said the public believes “standing with Israel and protecting the innocent over there is in our national interest and it’s a more immediate need than IRS agents.”

Read More: Biden Officials Oppose Separating Israel Arms Aid From Ukraine

Democrats, however, say the maneuver would ultimately cost the government due to lost revenue.

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

Senate Republican leaders support a package more in line with Democratic proposals to fund Biden’s $106 billion emergency request, which also would provide money to bolster Taiwan’s defenses. Senators writing the bill could unveil it next week.

“The threats facing America and our allies are serious, and they’re intertwined,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “If we ignore that fact, we do so at our own peril.”

McConnell and his allies propose attaching GOP-endorsed border-policy changes to the Senate’s much larger aid package to ease its passage in the House.

“Democrats will have to accept a really serious US-Mexico border” provision to get Republicans on board for a comprehensive package, McConnell told reporters.

Johnson, who met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken Tuesday, has said he supports aid to Ukraine but wants it handled separately and with increased oversight.

Tough Math

The new speaker can only afford to lose four votes on partisan bills. Republicans Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia have already said they won’t support Israel aid. Many Democrats who are staunch allies of Israel are also lining up to oppose the bill over the IRS cuts.

House Freedom Caucus member Chip Roy said he would only support Israel aid with spending cuts attached. He said Tuesday that if Democrats don’t want to cut the IRS, he would be willing to make other cuts such as to funding the United Nations.

Johnson’s GOP allies in the Senate are urging McConnell to back Johnson, who won his position after a politically painful three-week battle after ultraconservatives ousted former speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“It was quite difficult to get that position and it’s quite difficult to keep it these days,” Kentucky Republican Rand Paul said. “Pushing him to pass something that his members are not supportive of and that most conservatives in the country are not supportive of I think threatens his position.”

--With assistance from Billy House.

(Updates with comment from McConnell in 11th paragraph.)

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