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funding fight

Democrats slam GOP plan to split Israel and Ukraine funding, offset with IRS cuts

House Republicans proposed cutting $14.3 billion from the IRS funding increase provided in the Inflation Reduction Act to offset emergency aid to Israel

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) gives a brief statement to reporters about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2023 in Washington, DC.

House Republicans’ proposal to split emergency Israel and Ukraine funding and offset it with funding cuts to the Internal Revenue Service is being criticized as political gamesmanship by House and Senate Democrats.

The Republicans’ bill, which is set to come up for a vote later this week, would offset the $14.3 billion in proposed aid to Israel with equivalent cuts to funding for the IRS — an unusual provision for an emergency aid bill. IRS funding has been a particular target for congressional Republicans since it received significant increases as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

The proposal has met with significant criticism, even from strongly pro-Israel Democrats. It seems unlikely to gain much headway in the Senate, setting up a potential clash — despite the strong bipartisan support for the Israel funding.

A bipartisan group of House members including Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the Republican chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia subcommittee, pro-Israel Democrats Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Debbie Wasserman Schutlz (D-FL) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), wrote to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) urging him to reverse course.

“We beseech you not to separate aid for Israel’s fight to rescue its hostages and secure its borders from Ukraine’s fight to do the same, or from Taiwan’s efforts to deter a war. All are crucial priorities for the United States,” the letter, first reported by Jewish Insider, reads. “The introduction of offsets, or the potential deferral of our commitments, threatens not only our national interest, but also our long-term fiscal health. It is far better and less costly in blood and treasure to ensure Russia, Iran, and Hamas are defeated in their current wars than it will be if they achieve strategic victories against Ukraine or Israel.”

Rank-and-file Republicans, including outspoken pro-Israel lawmakers, have been mostly quiet about leadership’s proposal.

Arthur Bryant, a spokesperson for Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), the vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Jewish Insider that “the congresswoman is supportive and encourages all her colleagues to swiftly advance funding that will help Israel defend itself in this time of crisis and destroy the terrorist threat posed by Hamas.”

Several other pro-Israel Republicans and key GOP committee chairs did not respond to requests for comment.

An official at a pro-Israel organization in contact with Capitol Hill told JI the proposal from House leadership was a misstep.

“The House legislation puts Israel in a tough spot unnecessarily. There is no upside here,” the official told JI. “It is [dead on arrival] in the Senate all the while making the funding partisan and raising questions about setting a new precedent for emergency assistance to our most important ally in the region. A largely partisan vote at a time when Israel is fighting a war and recovering from burying 1,400 of its citizens sends the wrong signal to the world — including Israel’s enemies.”

Wasserman Schultz said earlier on Monday, before the particulars of the House bill were revealed, that the proposal was “offensive” and that offset provisions would “politicize the battle against Hamas and Iran, giving ammunition to anti-Israel extremists around the world.”

“I am deeply disturbed by Speaker Johnson playing political games with Israeli emergency funding, something our nation has never done in a time of crisis,” Wasserman Schultz said. “This extreme tactic undercuts our credibility and feeds the absurd notion that America must choose between providing for our neighbors and pushing back against genocidal terrorists who kill and kidnap Israelis and Americans.”

She later accused Republicans of “play[ing] politics with the lives of American and Israeli hostages,” “us[ing] Israel’s security to score political points” and “condition[ing] urgent funding to help Israel eradicate Hamas.”

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) likewise accused Republicans of “conditioning aid to Israel on helping the rich avoid taxes.” 

Former Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called the proposal “unconscionable,” and said that the offset provision would slow down aid. “The price for these political points will be paid in Jewish lives,” he continued, also noting that the GOP had failed to provide for humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) also criticized the bill.

“If the extreme-right plays politics with assistance to Israel and Ukraine during times of crises, it will only empower America’s enemies, including Iran, Russia, and China,” Gottheimer told JI. “This is about fighting against terror and protecting global democracy and our national security. America must help our allies crush Hamas terrorists and stand up to murdering dictators.”

Despite describing the bill as a politicized stunt that would not pass the Senate, Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) said he’d vote for it anyway.

“A political mailer as policy put forward by unserious people. Was this in the speaker[‘]s Bible? To choose between Israel and the IRS,” Moskowitz said. “This is dead in the Senate. It violates Republicans[‘] single subject spending rule. It adds to the deficit. I will support Israel.”

AIPAC said that it is supporting the House’s proposed supplemental.

“We recognize that this is the first step in a process that will continue to unfold,” the pro-Israel group said on X. “Each step of the process, we will work for overwhelming bipartisan Congressional support for this critical assistance.”

William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JI that “an overwhelming consensus exists in the pro-Israel community that the focus needs to be on securing these necessary funds as soon as possible for Israel to combat the Hamas Terrorist Army.”

“After the House overwhelmingly passes their version of the emergency supplemental, the Senate will overwhelmingly pass a different package, that also includes funds for Israel’s security,” Daroff continued. “Then it will be worked out by Senate, House, and White House negotiators. But, there is a clock ticking — and the key is to provide legislative vehicles that will make it most likely for the funds to flow to Israel’s defense.”

The GOP proposal is meeting a cold reception in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “We believe, our Democratic Caucus, we should be doing all of it together: Israel, Ukraine, South Pacific, etc. And obviously a pay-for like that makes it much harder to pass.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that the various aid categories “should be” linked and that the offsets are not “practical, particularly in this circumstance.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key architect of the Inflation Reduction Act, told reporters last night that he would be open to the IRS funding cut as long as the $80 billion provided in the IRA “was more than what was needed” and the proposed cut would not harm the IRS.

Some Senate Republicans indicated to reporters last night that the offset would not be necessary to gain their votes on an Israel aid bill but that they would support a bill that includes it.

“I don’t need an offset to support Israel funding, but if it has one and it makes sense, I’d be fine with it,” Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) said. “The absence of it wouldn’t cause me to vote no, but if it has it in there, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It makes sense.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he’s “personally OK” with the offset, but “we’ll see how it affects the Senate.”

“Trying to offset the package makes sense to me if you can find something that gets the votes,” he said.

Rubio also said he supports separating the Israel and Ukraine packages because “it’s easier to pass” the Israel portion of the bill, given that the Ukraine bill will “require more debate.”

“I have no problem with doing them together,” Rubio explained, “but I prefer they be separated because I think it endangers Israel aid, to slow it down.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the House bill as a “non-starter” and accused Republicans of “politicizing national security.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) appeared to renew his calls for leveraging U.S. aid to Israel.

“The U.S. provides $3.8 billion a year to Israel. The Biden administration and Congress must make it clear. Israel has the right to defend itself and destroy Hamas terrorism, but it does not have the right to use U.S. dollars to kill thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Gaza,” Sanders said.

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