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House Speaker Mike Johnson’s first legislative action is already facing significant pushback from all quarters, including the White House and some members of his party.
Last month, President Biden requested $106 billion in aid for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, money that Republicans immediately noted the government did not have and would have to borrow, given the massive deficit spending included in the current budget. The U.S. national debt is a staggering $33.6 trillion, with Congress and the federal government adding trillions during Biden’s term.
Instead, Johnson countered with a bill that only included money for Israel: Around $14.5 billion, but with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, which is a priority for Republicans, the Washington Post reported.
“Lawmakers from both parties swiftly rejected Johnson’s gambit. Top Senate Republicans such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine) called for including Ukraine aid in the legislative package, while the White House and congressional Democrats said cutting the IRS was a non-starter,” the Washington Post reported.
“The administration also panned Johnson for leaving out Biden’s proposals for humanitarian assistance, increasing immigration enforcement, and funds to counter China. In remarks on Tuesday, McConnell also suggested the legislation should include funds for the U.S.-Mexico border,” the Post added.
No one, however, has said where the money would come from. According to the Treasury Department, “In FY 2023, total government spending was $6.13 trillion and total revenue was $4.44 trillion, resulting in a deficit of $1.70 trillion, an increase of $320 billion from the previous fiscal year.”
The Post adds:
The legislative jockeying reflects the challenge facing Johnson as he tries to secure passage of aid to Israel through divided government without antagonizing the far-right House GOP lawmakers who ousted former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and paralyzed Congress’s lower chamber. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing that neither Israel nor Ukraine could succeed in fighting off Hamas and Russian incursions, respectively, without U.S. aid.
Johnson was set to meet with Blinken on Tuesday afternoon. Republicans are expected to try to pass the legislation through the House on Friday.
“The U.S. needs to send a clear signal it supports its allies, as we are in probably the most dangerous international crises since the end of the Cold War,” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Post.
The outlet added that more Republicans in the Senate than in the House support additional aid for Ukraine. The Post also reported that there is wide bipartisan support for Israel in both chambers of Congress.
Despite the criticism, however, Johnson’s measure may pass the GOP-controlled House, which would then give him and House Republicans leverage in negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House.
“This is going to be a meaningful test for Johnson: He has to keep the conference united, and the selection of the IRS funds as an offset is a way to do that; that is low-hanging fruit,” Don Schneider, once a top aide to House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, told the Post.
“But you’re folding in the deficit, you’re folding in foreign aid and Ukraine — which are divisive issues among Republicans — and you’re folding in the border, which is also divisive. We’ll see if he can thread the needle,” he added.
Collins, the top Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Tuesday her party is already counting on cuts to the IRS budget as part of the debt ceiling agreement Biden struck with then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in May.
“Where does it end here? The bill has four important components. It’s not only a bill to help our ally Israel and to assist the Ukrainians in repelling the Russian invasion,” she added. “It also includes funding to help discourage China from its ambitions, and it has critical money for border security.”
For his part, Johnson defended his proposal during an interview that aired on Tuesday.
“If you put this to the American people, and they weigh the two needs, I think they are going to say standing with Israel and protecting the innocent is in our national interest and a more immediate need than IRS agents,” he said.