The Republican-led lower chamber of US Congress passed a $14 billion aid package for Israel on Thursday, defying President Joe Biden’s request to also include more money for Ukraine and other pressing priorities.
The bill, which diverts funding budgeted to the US tax collection agency, is almost certain to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate, while Biden has also threatened to veto it.
The White House has requested a larger, multifaceted package of support for both Israel and Ukraine, as well as humanitarian aid for Gaza and additional funding for US border-related projects.
But debate over the key issues is just beginning in earnest after a weeks-long delay while House Republicans struggled to name a new speaker, and it is unclear what, if anything, can get through both chambers.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress want to promptly adopt military aid for Israel, a long-standing US partner at war with Hamas.
Things get more complicated, however, when it comes to Ukraine.
Washington is Kyiv’s biggest military backer, having committed tens of billions of dollars since Russia invaded in February 2022.
But Biden’s pledge of uninterrupted financial support, reiterated during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington in September, looks to be in jeopardy.
$106 billion request
In the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a slim majority, a few hard-line conservatives have demanded an immediate end to Ukraine funding.
The chamber is only just emerging from an unprecedented three-week paralysis, after the previous Republican speaker was ousted in a rebellion by the same hard-line group.
The situation is drastically different in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where most Republicans have voiced support for boosting aid to Ukraine.
“The idea that supporting the fight against Russian aggression detracts from other security priorities is false,” top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said recently.
Aware that war fatigue is growing in some US political circles, Biden has decided to couple his aid request for Ukraine — over $61 billion — with that for Israel, around $14 billion.
The 80-year-old Democrat has also asked for some $9 billion to respond to international humanitarian crises, including in the Gaza Strip, while sweetening the deal for conservatives with billions of dollars requested for US border security and projects aimed at countering China.
In total, the package amounts to $106 billion.
Israel aid with offsets
House Republican leaders, balking at the price tag of the president’s request and divided over Ukraine, brought a bill solely for Israel to a vote on Thursday.
It passed with almost all Republicans in support, joined by a handful of Democrats.
Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the new House speaker, suggested that aid to the United States’ other allies, including Ukraine, should be discussed later.
“We cannot waste any time getting Israel the aid it needs,” Johnson told a news conference Thursday morning, without mentioning Gaza.
A staunch conservative who has railed against America’s ballooning national debt, Johnson has proposed offsetting the Israel package by diverting funds for the US federal tax agency that were passed last year as part of Biden’s landmark climate and infrastructure plan.
The White House is unsurprisingly opposed to the plan, which a nonpartisan budget analysis said would actually increase the US debt.
When asked about the quarrel on Capitol Hill, White House national security spokesman John Kirby called on Congress to move more quickly.
“Israel doesn’t need a ceasefire,” he said, in reference to the wave of calls internationally and from some Democrats for a ceasefire to protect civilians in Gaza.
Israel “needs allies to cease with the politics and deliver support now.”
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – AFP)