In the past year and a half, the US Congress has haggled several times about providing aid to Ukraine. But this was replaced by the scramble for finances for Israel during the past month. In the past, Congress had no problem agreeing on aid for Israel, but today the situation is more complicated.
When Hamas launched its attack on October 7, the US House of Representatives was without a speaker and de facto incapacitated. At the end of the month, she elected the relatively unknown Congressman Mike Johnson as her leader, and it soon became clear that finances for Israel would become the number one priority. “We must waste no time in getting Israel the help it needs,” he said Chairman Johnson last week.
Although the vast majority in Washington, as usual, fully supports its closest ally in the Middle East, it is not at all clear at the moment what form of aid local politicians will be able to agree on.
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The House of Representatives has already approved its version of support for Israel. On Thursday, November 2, congressmen voted on a package that allocates 14.3 billion dollars for these purposes. But there’s a catch – these new expenses are to be offset by equivalent cuts in the IRS budget.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schummer called the Republican proposal a “joke.”
The increase in the IRS budget was one of the key parts of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act – a large package of investments in the American economy sponsored by Joe Biden. The declared goal of the IRS budget increase was to help the IRS with demanding audits of the wealthiest Americans. But now twelve Democratic congressmen voted with the Republicans for cuts that tear this last year’s gains of their own party to pieces.
Although the House package is presented as fiscally responsible, a closer look reveals that both halves of the bill are actually increasing the deficit. According to calculations for Congress itself, cutting the IRS budget will result in less tax revenues: they should decrease by less than 27 billion next year – which is 12 billion more than what will be saved from the cuts.
The Senate is not laughing
This poses one of the main problems Johnson’s Israel aid package will have in the Senate. Democrats hold the majority there. “President Johnson and House Republicans have put forward a completely frivolous and woefully inadequate package,” he declared Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schummer called the proposal a “joke.”
“If the Democrats in the Senate, the House or whoever wants to argue that hiring more IRS agents is more important than supporting Israel at this point, I’m ready to debate that,” House Speaker Johnson responded to the criticism.
At the same time, he is not only in conflict with the Democrats at the Capitol. He is also at odds with his own party colleagues in the upper house on the best course of action to approve aid to Israel. “I will repeat myself, but the threats facing America and our allies are serious and intertwined. If we ignore this fact, we do so at our own peril.” he said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
In recent decades, politicians in Washington have preferred to pass proposals bundled together in massive packages that have something for everyone. According to many in Congress, it would be best to do so now. According to Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell, aid to Israel should be combined into one package with aid to Ukraine, Taiwan and funds to secure the American southern border.
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Both Senate leaders also agree with the White House on this. President Joe Biden asks Congress, to approve a package of less than 106 billion. This should include over 60 billion for Ukraine, the aforementioned 14.3 billion for Israel, a similar amount for investments in securing the border with Mexico, but also several billion for the fight against Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Biden therefore threatens that even if Johnson’s package passes the upper chamber, he will veto it himself. “The bill does not meet the urgency of the situation because it deepens our divisions and seriously erodes historic bipartisan support for Israel’s security,” he responded at Johnson’s suggestion the White House.
Conditions for both Ukraine and Israel
The current scramble for aid to Israel has greatly overshadowed similar negotiations – regarding the already mentioned support for Ukraine. This took place in the early fall in light of the looming “shutdown,” the shutdown of the federal government due to budget disagreements. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi therefore visited Washington in September to he warned American politicians that without their support his country would lose the war.
When Congress subsequently delayed the budget shutdown, it was aid for Ukraine from a temporary compromise agreement she dropped out. But agreement within the divided republican party – where the support of Ukraine is not far away limitless — set in motion a chain of events that led to the impeachment of Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and the paralysis of the upper chamber.
Read also: The US Congress avoided a “shutdown”. Only temporarily and at the cost of Ukraine
The shutdown is now threatening again, because the representatives in Congress agreed at the end of September only to postpone the budget deadline until mid-November. If they can’t reach a more permanent deal, federal offices will begin closing after November 17.
While in the case of aid to Ukraine, mainly Republican politicians are generally skeptical, in the case of Israeli aid the support of the Democrats is at stake. Many Republican critics they asked for the approval of additional funds for Ukraine, more thorough control over what exactly Ukraine uses American funds for.
In the case of Israel, for a change, some Democrats now demand that the US side condition the approval of aid on its own demands. Among them belongs such as limiting civilian casualties or a cease-fire—though many politicians in DC avoid the word, using euphemisms like “humanitarian pause“.
In addition, Joe Biden’s team was clearly frightened by the reaction of the American public to the events in Gaza. Biden is to run for re-election next year, and the current polls show him against his expected opponent (according to current estimates, it should again be Donald Trump) they don’t give much chance.
So every vote is expected to be on the line in a tight election. In this light, polls on Gaza and Israel do not inspire much confidence among Democrats. Especially between voters of Arab originbut also among the younger electorate According to polls, there is far less pro-Israel sentiment than American politicians are used to. Even concerns about the election results can influence the already unclear fate of the aid package for Israel.