Israel aid bill fails in House as foreign security assistance bill in Senate hangs in limbo
Stars and Stripes February 7, 2024
WASHINGTON — A Republican-led effort to pass a standalone bill to provide aid to Israel failed in the House on Tuesday as Democrats rallied behind a Senate bill to pair the aid with assistance for Ukraine and immigration reform.
The House vote on the legislation was 250-180, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval. House Republicans offered the $17.6 billion bill this week as a counter to the Democrat-led Senate’s $118.3 billion supplemental package to provide security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and impose tougher laws at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is not the way to get more aid to Israel,” said Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel. “The Republican House bill plays politics with our national security and that’s wrong. It’s a non-starter for those of us who seriously want to address these crises in a comprehensive manner.”
House Democrats and the White House derided the standalone Israel measure as a “cynical political maneuver” to undermine the Senate’s months-long work on a bipartisan deal. Former President Donald Trump has been publicly urging lawmakers from his party to tank the Senate package.
The Israel bill “is a nakedly obvious and cynical attempt by MAGA extremists to undermine the possibility of a comprehensive, bipartisan funding package that addresses America’s national security challenges in the Middle East, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific region and throughout the world,” Democratic leaders in the House said Tuesday.
Republicans pushed back against the accusations. Rep. Ken Calvert of California, the chairman of the House Appropriations panel, said any claims by Democrats that the bill “plays politics” were “patently false.”
“This bill simply provides necessary resources to our closest ally in the region and our own military,” he said. “I introduced this bill because it’s the right thing to do. The only people making it political are those who oppose it.”
The measure would have provided military aid to Israel as it wages war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as additional funding for U.S. military operations in the Middle East. The U.S. has been carrying out retaliatory strikes against Iranian-linked militia targets in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
The House last passed a bill to help Israel in November, but the $14.3 billion measure failed to advance any further due to a lack of aid for Ukraine and included cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.
The lack of cuts to offset appropriations in the newest Israel bill drew criticism from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which opposes unpaid supplemental spending. Some Democrats criticized the bill for not including humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.
The White House has been seeking additional aid for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia’s invasion since the summer and added a request for aid to Israel after Hamas militants stormed into the country in October and killed 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians.
Republicans had insisted that any foreign security assistance be combined with immigration reform. But the bipartisan agreement in the Senate to meet that demand was on the verge of collapse Tuesday as Republicans argued it does not go far enough to stem the flow of migrants.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has said the Senate bill will be “dead on arrival” in the lower chamber. The Senate is expected to take its first vote on the measure on Wednesday.
The legislation would allocate $60 billion to aid Ukraine — much of it to refill the Pentagon’s weapons stocks — and provide $14 billion in security assistance to Israel and nearly $5 billion to partners in the Indo-Pacific region. The bill also provides a pathway to citizenship for Afghans who assisted U.S. service members during the 20-year war in Afghanistan.