Controversy grows over House Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan to add IRS cuts to Israel aid package

WASHINGTON — The Senate and the White House pushed back hard on Tuesday against new Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan to fund only aid for Israel — and include unrelated cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber said they would move ahead with a supplemental aid plan that would include billions in much-needed aid for embattled Ukraine alongside assistance for the Jewish state as it battles Hamas.

“Make no mistake, we need to address all of these priorities as part of one package — because the reality is these issues are all connected, and they are all urgent,” said Sen. Patti Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed with Democrats and President Joe Biden to push for a combined package that includes emergency assistance to both allies as well as border security and aid to Taiwan.

He called it a “false choice,” to choose between defending Ukraine against the Russian invasion and other priorities.

“Enemies of democracy around the world like nothing more than to outlast our resolve to resist Russian aggression,” McConnell said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin both testified in favor of the combined package in statements that were repeatedly interrupted by anti-Israel protesters.

Johnson, who just won the gavel after a divisive three-week Republican-on-Republican civil war, wants to separate funding for Israel because about half the House Republican caucus opposes aid to Ukraine. However, a large majority of the entire House and an even bigger majority in the Senate back it.

In his first legislative foray, Johnson also chose to tie the Israel funding to unrelated cuts in IRS funding, a controversial move designed to please his allies on the far-right wing of the party.

Unlike other spending cuts, slashing funding for the IRS actually increases the budget deficit because it leads to reduced enforcement against tax cheats and lower revenue collection.

It’s unclear how the dueling spending measures will be resolved.

Johnson may have enough votes in the narrowly divided House to pass his Israel-only aid bill. But senators from both parties say it’s dead on arrival in the Senate, with pro-Israel stalwart Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., calling the IRS provision a “poison pill.”

One possible compromise could see Johnson agreeing to put the rest of the package to a separate vote to allow his right-wing colleagues to signal their opposition to Ukraine aid if the Israel vote goes first.