House Republicans propose $17.6 billion aid package for Israel; Biden rejects ‘ploy’

Bill would provide billions for air defense, replenish US arms, as GOP seeks to back Jerusalem while refusing Senate compromise that also aids Ukraine, toughens border restrictions

President Joe Biden, right, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, center, during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Joe Biden, right, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, center, during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans unveiled a $17.6 billion offering new military assistance to Israel as it wages war against Hamas, as lawmakers sought to show support for Jerusalem while rejecting a Senate-led compromise that would have also funded help for Ukraine and stiffened immigration enforcement at the US-Mexico border.

The funding bill, offered by a House Appropriations panel, could come to a vote in the full House sometime next week, Speaker Mike Johnson said in a letter to members.

But the White House immediately dismissed the proposal as a “cynical political maneuver,” accusing Republicans of treating military aid to Israel as a political football.

According to the House Appropriations Committee, the $17.6 billion would include $4 billion to replenish missile defense systems and $1.2 billion to counter short-range rockets and mortar threats. There’s also funding for the procurement of advanced weapons systems and to enhance the production of artillery and other munitions.

To ensure the support does not compromise US readiness, it also includes $4.4 billion to replenish US stocks of weapons provided to Israel. There’s also $3.3 billion for current US military operations in the region.

“The need to support our closest ally and our own forces in the region has never been more pressing,” Johnson said in his letter to colleagues.

Israeli Iron Dome air defense system fires to intercept a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in central Israel, October 28, 2023. (AP Photo/ Oded Balilty)

The move gives Speaker Mike Johnson and House Republicans the chance to show support for Israel even though there is little chance the Senate will go along.

In the coming days, the Senate is slated to unveil a bipartisan compromise that would also fund aid for Ukraine and contain proposals for strengthening security along the southern US border, scheduling a key test vote on the package for no later than Wednesday.

House Republicans have insisted that any new aid to Ukraine be accompanied by strong new US border controls at a time when record numbers of immigrants are trying to enter the United States. While the Senate plans to do just that, Johnson already has said the border security package to be unveiled in the Senate is insufficient.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, rescuers work the scene of a building damaged by Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Ukrainian Emergency Service/AP)

Before new military aid to Israel or Ukraine can be delivered, the House and Senate must pass the same bill before sending it to President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for signing into law.

The Senate also wants to include aid to Taiwan as part of its legislation, and a statement from the White House noted that it was also seeking humanitarian funds for Gaza.

“The security of Israel should be sacred, not a political game,” a statement released by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said shortly after Republicans rolled out the House bill. “We strongly oppose this ploy which does nothing to secure the border, does nothing to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves against Putin’s aggression, and denies humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, the majority of them women and children, which the Israelis supported by opening the access route.”

Johnson said that Senate leadership is aware that by failing to include the House in their negotiations, they have eliminated the ability for swift consideration of any legislation.

“As I have said consistently for the past three months, the House will have to work its will on these issues and our priorities will need to be addressed,” Johnson said in a letter to colleagues.

US Border Patrol agents, front, speak with migrants seeking asylum, mainly from Colombia, China and Ecuador, in a makeshift, mountainous campsite after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, near Jacumba, Calif. (AP/Gregory Bull)

The House has already approved a nearly $14.5 billion military aid package in November for Israel that the Senate declined to take up. Republicans also insisted it be paid for with cuts elsewhere. The bill targeted the Internal Revenue Service for cuts, though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said doing so would end up costing the federal government a net $12.5 billion because of lost revenue from tax collections.

Johnson said in his letter to colleagues that removing the offsets should allow for swift passage of the Israel aid.

“During debate in the House and in numerous subsequent statements, Democrats made clear that their primary objection to the original House bill was with its offsets,” Johnson said. “The Senate will no longer have excuses, however misguided, against swift passage of this critical support for our ally.”

It was unclear whether far-right House members might balk at the funding for Israel without an equal amount of savings elsewhere in the budget.

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