House, Senate at odds over Israel aid
Congress debates which wars to fund, when, and how much
Today, Jonathan Meola teaches history classes online out of Florida, but three years ago, he and his wife lived right outside Jerusalem. He said the Jewish communities in both places see the United States as a big brother to Israel. So do Israel’s enemies.
Hamas calls the United States the “big Satan.” Israel, by extension, is the “little Satan.” The tie goes deeper than a military alliance; it encompasses the countries’ similar Judeo-Christian values and cultural ideals.
“It’s an extreme sense of reassurance,” Meola said. “ I think deep-down Israelis want to know that someone is looking out for them. … They just want to know that they’re not alone.”
When Hamas rockets came down and Iron Dome defenses went up last month, Meola said, U.S. support brought Israelis a degree of comfort.
Congress by and large wants to continue providing that comfort. Dozens of lawmakers from both parties have taken to the House floor in the past few days to advocate strongly for Israel. On Thursday evening, the House passed an aid package by a vote of 226-196 to help Israel address the conflict in Gaza. But the bill likely won’t survive in the Senate, let alone earn President Joe Biden’s signature.
The measure is tied up in a larger struggle over U.S. involvement in foreign conflict and America’s role as a world leader. The debate has implications for federal spending, national security, and the global balance of power.
While Congress for now remains firmly behind aid to Israel, support for giving more aid to Ukraine is waning, especially among Republicans in the House. Newly appointed Speaker Mike Johnson has called for separate bills to fund aid to each country. Then if a bill backing Ukraine failed, Israel would not have to suffer.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., disagrees and wants a more comprehensive foreign aid bill. So does the White House.
“The Senate will not take up the House GOP’s deeply flawed proposal,” Schumer announced on X. “Instead, we will work on our own bipartisan emergency aid package that includes funding for aid to Israel, Ukraine, humanitarian aid including for Gaza, and competition with the Chinese government.”
Johnson’s version of the bill, called the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, would provide Israel with $14.3 billion in aid while also cutting almost as much in spending from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The budget offset is key to winning the support of fiscally conservative members and is one of the reasons Republicans don’t want to bundle the aid.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill would add $535 million to the national deficit in 2024. As a result of the proposed reduction in the IRS budget, the agency would collect $26.8 billion less by 2033.
Most Democrats voted against the bill, but 12 of them broke with the party to support it, including Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas of California.
“I didn’t like the way they set up the bill, and I hate that they divided Democrats and Republicans,” Vargas told me. “However, it was a vote for Israel, so I voted for it. I very much support Israel.”
Vargas believes there has to be a hierarchy for which countries receive U.S. aid.
“[Ukraine] has Europe,” Vargas said. “Israel is the one we need to support more strongly than Ukraine. There are other nations where I say ‘well, we have to see how much we are going to get involved or not get involved.’ It depends on the nation, depends on their system.”
John Owen, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, said a hierarchy means prioritizing some allies over others. That would be hard to do in cases where the United States is already involved.
“Is there a way to unwind one or more of these? I think you can do it; you’re just taking on more risk of a different kind—especially if you unwind these relationships suddenly,” Owen said.
He said the United States must be mindful of the message it would send if America pulled support from Ukraine: “Putin might be thinking, ‘Cool, the Americans clearly don’t have Ukraine’s back … my next goal is the rest of Ukraine a couple years from now.’ I’m not saying that would happen, but the risk of that kind of thing happening goes up.”
Meola warned of sending a similar message to other groups hovering around the conflict in Gaza. An aid package from the United States—or an inability to pass one—could affect whether Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, or Iran decide to target Israel more directly. Meola said U.S. aid is key to preventing current uncertainty from becoming a more sinister reality.
“The problem is that there are all these different wildcards that could be played,” Meola said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen next. And that’s the scary part.”
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