House Democrats are lining up in overwhelming opposition to a Republican package combining Israel aid with cuts to IRS funding, setting the stage for a partisan clash over an issue that has typically enjoyed broad support from both parties.
At a closed-door meeting in the Capitol complex Thursday morning, House Democratic leaders urged their members to oppose the package when it hits the floor later in the day, citing the IRS cuts and the absence of additional funding for Ukraine and humanitarian aid for Gaza.
The message is resonating in the diverse Democratic Caucus, where virtually all lawmakers — even many of Israel’s staunchest allies — say they’ll oppose the proposal Thursday afternoon.
“I’m a hot no,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), a prominent Jewish Democrat. “It’s trying to be some sort of a ‘gotcha,’ that somehow you’re not for Israel if you vote against it. Which is absolutely ridiculous.”
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, was among the lawmakers who addressed the caucus Thursday morning. Emerging from the meeting, he warned that requiring offsets for emergency aid would set a dangerous precedent that could hobble Congress’s ability to help allies in times of crisis.
Tapping IRS funds, he added, has the additional disadvantage of piling billions of dollars onto the federal debt.
More from The Hill
- Greene blasts Republicans who helped tank Tlaib censure
- Durbin calls for Israel-Hamas cease-fire tied to hostage release
- McConnell, Speaker Johnson divide sharply on year-end strategy
“My message to the caucus is: If you’re pro-Israel, you’re voting no,” Meeks said. “Republicans are playing politics with this. We’ve never had a situation where any aid to Israel or our national security was conditioned, and here they’re conditioning it as well as increasing the deficit.”
Not all Democrats, however, are expected to vote against the legislation when it hits the floor. Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), for one, has hammered GOP leaders for pushing an “outrageous” proposal designed to squeeze Democrats into sacrificing one pet policy in favor of another. But he also plans to vote yes as a show of solidarity with Israel.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), also a vocal Israel supporter, is another Democrat who might back the bill despite his opposition to the Republicans’ tactics. He said Thursday morning that he remains undecided. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), another prominent Jewish lawmaker, declined to say how she’ll land.
Most Democrats, though, made clear their intention to oppose the bill, even as they stressed their support for helping Israel in the wake of last month’s deadly attacks by Hamas.
“I’m not saying that I would vote no on any bill that wasn’t perfect. But this idea of offsetting aid to Israel at a time of emergency is highly divisive,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who plans to oppose the bill. “Israel has always been bipartisan. And [Speaker] Mike Johnson [R-La.] does incredible harm to Israel by this partisan ploy.”
Johnson, the newly installed House Speaker, defended his strategy Thursday, predicting that public sentiment is on his side when it comes to cutting IRS funding.
“If Democrats in the Senate or the House — or anyone else, anywhere else — want to argue that hiring more IRS agents is more important than standing with Israel in this moment, I’m ready to have that debate,” Johnson told reporters in the Capitol.
“But I did not attach that for political purposes,” he continued. “I attached it because again, we’re trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility here, and that was the easiest and largest pile of money that was sitting there for us to be able to pay for this immediate obligation.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the IRS cuts, by eroding the agency’s powers to pursue tax dodgers, would add more than $12 billion to deficit spending.
The $14.3 billion Israel package is expected to pass through the Republican House despite the Democrats’ criticisms. Yet the opposition is shared by Democrats in the Senate and the White House, both of which they control, and President Biden has already vowed to veto the House measure in the unlikely event that it reaches his desk.
Biden has proposed a much larger emergency package, to include aid for Israel, Ukraine, humanitarian assistance for Palestinians and Taiwan, among other provisions — a strategy backed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also balking at the House blueprint, pushing for Israel and Ukraine aid to be combined.
The divisions have left the fate of the Israel funding in question almost a month after Hamas’s deadly terrorist attacks and the launch of Israel’s retaliatory strikes.
On Wednesday, Johnson trekked across the Capitol to a closed-door meeting of GOP senators, where he urged his fellow Republicans to back his strategy of separating Israel aid from Ukraine funding and other emergency endeavors. A larger package, he warned the senators, simply won’t win the support of conservatives in the House.
Mychael Schnell contributed.