By Ron Kampeas
November 3, 2023
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives approved $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel but tied it to a cut in funding to the Internal Revenue Service, an unprecedented setting of conditions on aid to Israel that is expected to doom the bill.
The bill passed 226-196 on Thursday with all but two Republicans voting for it and all but 12 Democrats voting against. The bill would deliver assistance amid the war Israel is fighting against Hamas in Gaza, following the terror group’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel. Among other provisions, about $5 billion goes to missile defense systems and another $4.5 billion goes to offensive systems.
President Joe Biden gave an Oval Office address last month calling for aid to Israel, but has vowed to veto the bill approved Thursday because he opposes tying it to the spending cuts.
But he won’t even see the bill: Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish New York Democrat who is the Senate’s majority leader, said he would not even consider the bill once it landed on his desk. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, suggested that he backed that approach.
The funding bill comes as Congress is considering and passing a series of resolutions supporting Israel. The latest to pass overwhelmingly, also Thursday, was a non-binding resolution condemning antisemitism on campuses in the wake of Hamas’ war against Israel. It passed 396-23, and “Condemns the support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations at institutions of higher education, which may lead to the creation of a hostile environment for Jewish students, faculty and staff.”
The move was all the more remarkable for coming from Republicans. In recent years, calls for conditioning aid to Israel had largely come from progressive Democrats, who wanted to make the funding dependent on Israel’s policies vis a vis the West Bank, Gaza and its treatment of Palestinians.
Five Jewish Democrats who voted for Thursday’s bill — Florida’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Jared Moskowitz; Ohio’s Greg Landsman; and New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer — said later in interviews and statements that the need to assist Israel at a time of urgent need overrode their anger with Johnson for tying the measure to IRS cuts. Wasserman Schultz and Landsman reportedly left the floor after the vote weeping, according to Semafor.
“While I do not support the speaker’s approach to this legislation, we must ensure that Israel has the resources to defeat Hamas and other terrorists, and get every hostage home, including all Americans,” Gottheimer said. “The symbol to the world of voting no would have done more damage.”
Wasserman Schultz, in her floor speech Thursday, said attaching the aid to cuts in IRS funding opened a can of worms.
“This House should send a clean bill to the Senate,” said Wasserman Schultz, who reportedly teared up at a closed door meeting ahead of the vote where she made a last-ditch appeal to Republicans for a bill stripped of conditions. “Instead, Speaker Johnson is willingly jeopardizing Israel’s security by making support for Israeli assistance contingent on issues totally unrelated to its security.”
She said Republicans had gone back on years of pledges to pro-Israel groups never to condition aid. “I’ve heard their promises over the years to never condition aid to Israel,” she said. “You know, you’ve looked pro-Israel leaders in the eye and promised that you would never do that. Think about it.”
Johnson has said that attaching the bill to IRS defunding is a matter of fiscal responsibility. “We want to protect and help and assist our friend Israel but we have to keep our own house in order as well,” he said in a press conference ahead of the vote. “While we take care of obligations, we have to do it in a responsible manner.”
Pro-Israel insiders said ahead of the vote that they dreaded its advance for two reasons: It has now created a precedent for some progressive Democrats who have sought for years to condition aid, and it gives the impression that assisting Israel exacts a price from Americans domestically — a narrative that the pro-Israel lobby has long combatted, noting that foreign aid is a tiny part of government spending.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which takes pains to avoid any hint of partisanship, tiptoed around the vote, faintly praising it while indicating that the group would work with Schumer to pass the bill Biden wants, without conditions.
“We strongly support the president’s emergency funding request for Israel & appreciate the House’s approval of a bill that fully funds that request,” it said in a tweet. “We’ll work to build broad bipartisan support as the package moves through the legislative process to ensure prompt final approval.”
By presenting the bill as he did, Johnson also sought to separate assistance for Israel from spending for Ukraine and for protecting U.S. allies in the Far East from China’s aggression. McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the House vote, rejected that approach. Biden’s package includes funding for all three of those areas, as well as for humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians. The veteran Republican chided, without naming them, his partisans in the House for leaning into isolationism.
“We have a direct interest in a stable and peaceful Middle East, and we have a responsibility to stand with Israel, our closest ally in the region, and to impose real costs on those who seek to harm U.S. personnel,” McConnell said. “We have a direct interest in preserving free commerce and deterring aggression in the Indo-Pacific. And we have a responsibility to future generations of Americans to win this century’s longterm strategy competition with communist China. And we have a direct interest in stability and security in Europe.”
Schumer said he would not consider the House bill, and would fashion one in the Senate that would reflect Biden’s broader requests of assistance for Ukraine and defense spending in the Far East.
“What a joke,” he said in his floor speech Thursday, calling the bill “stunningly unserious.”
Rep. Brad Schneider, an Illinois Democrat and one of the 18 Jewish Democrats who voted against the bill, said he was ready to advance the Senate bill once it came back to the House.
“The Senate will pass a robust, bipartisan aid package,” he said in a statement. “I will lead the charge to pass that package in the House as soon as humanly possible.”