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House passes ‘minibus’ package with money for Israel, nonprofit security

“It is the most pro-Israel State and Foreign Operations bill that we have ever seen,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: Sima Ghaffarzadeh/Pixabay.
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: Sima Ghaffarzadeh/Pixabay.

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the “minibus” spending package that combines six appropriations bills, with billions in funding for Israel and other projects supported by U.S. Jewish groups.

The $1.2 trillion package, which passed  286-134 on Friday, funds the U.S. Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security. The vote split the Republican caucus in half, garnering further opposition from progressive Democrats. It needed a two-thirds majority of 280 votes to pass.

The bill, which heads to the U.S. Senate next, includes several pro-Israel measures, including $3.3 billion in foreign military financing to the Jewish state; $500 million for U.S.-Israel missile-defense cooperation; and $87.5 million in U.S.-Israel counter-drone and anti-tunneling cooperation.

The bill forbids U.S. funding to the U.N.’s Palestinian aid agency UNRWA in the wake of Israeli allegations that agency staffers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks and that a substantial percentage of UNRWA employees are members of Hamas.

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) called the legislation “the most pro-Israel State and Foreign Operations bill that we have ever seen.”

“One of our most important allies is in its time of greatest need,” Diaz-Balart said. “This bill answers the call.” 

“The passage of this bill prohibits funds for the antisemitic U.N. Commission of Inquiry against Israel,” he added. “The passage of this bill means no funds can be used to de-list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization or to implement that infamous nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Opposition

Many of the 22 progressive Democrats who voted against the bill are frequent critics of Israel who cited restrictions on UNRWA funding in the lead-up to the vote.

“That’s some b***s*** if we are not funding UNRWA,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) told The Hill on Thursday. 

“UNRWA is the long-standing organization working on the ground in Gaza, providing humanitarian aid, and we have a humanitarian crisis right now where babies and children are starving to death,” he said. “It’s evil. It’s unacceptable. We gotta fund UNRWA for sure.”

Republican opponents of the package said on the House floor on Friday that the bill did not do enough to secure the U.S. southern border. They also highlighted spending provisions that they believe to be frivolous, including a $1 million grant to the Illinois chapter of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, whose founding executive director has described the war against Hamas in Gaza as a “U.S.-funded genocide.”

The Republican divisions could complicate Speaker of the House Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) control of the narrow and fractious Republican majority. 

During the vote, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) filed a motion to vacate the speakership, a maneuver that ousted Johnson’s predecessor Kevin McCarthy.

“I do not wish to inflict pain on our conference and to throw the House into chaos, but this is basically a warning, and it’s time for us to go through the process, take our time and find a new speaker of the House that will stand with Republicans,” she told reporters on the Capitol steps.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) announced on Friday that he will leave Congress on April 19 without completing his term, which will leave Johnson with a one-seat Republican majority until special elections can be held to replace other outgoing Republican-held seats.

As the bill moves to the Senate, the vote in that chamber could also influence the race to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as Republican leader.

“The archbishop of Canterbury shouldn’t be chosen as pope,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote ahead of the vote. “Republicans who vote for the swamp omnibus shouldn’t be chosen to lead the Senate GOP.”

Domestic provisions

Domestically, the bill reduces funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which helps bolster security for synagogues, day schools and other at-risk locations and is a key priority for U.S. Jewish groups.

Karen Paikin Barall, vice president of government relations at the Jewish Federations of North America, told JNS that the cut from $305 million for the program last year to $274.5 million for the fiscal year 2024 is disappointing and concerning given the spike in antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7.

“It for sure has to double,” Paikin Barall said, of the amount of money the program would need to meet demands. “This is not only about the Jewish community. This is about all nonprofits.”

“The Jewish community is one aspect of it and you need to protect it and that’s obviously what we’re interested in,” she added. “But it’s for everyone and I think that we’re seeing a need for this around the country.”

Paikin Barall said that the cuts are likely to affect smaller institutions that lack resources for additional security.

“It’s also those little places, little synagogues that have a menorah outside or have something that identifies them as a Jewish building, but they’re at the same amount of risk as other places,” she told JNS. “We’re worried about everybody, but those are the ones that tend to suffer the most.”

Hopes for expanding the security grant program now lie with the passage of the supplemental foreign aid package that has stalled in the House. 

The Senate-passed version of that package includes a one-off, $400 million expenditure for the security grant program. It’s unclear whether that money would be included in a future House version.

Johnson commended the passage of the minibus in a statement, adding that the House will now focus on the supplemental aid package, in addition to strengthening ties with Israel.

“We will also take the necessary steps to address the supplemental funding request,” Johnson stated. “We have done important work discussing options with members—such as the REPO Act, loans, additional sanctions, and energy exports, among other measures—and are preparing to complete our plan for action.” (The REPO Act confiscates seized Russian assets for Ukrainian benefit.)

The House speaker also referenced recent remarks on the Senate floor from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an “obstacle” to peace, and that Israel should hold new elections.

“After Senator Schumer’s reckless remarks about Prime Minister Netanyahu, we need to restore the historic, bipartisan support for Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East,” Johnson said. “We welcome all ongoing member deliberations over the next two weeks as the House works its will on this matter.”

The House will go into recess for two weeks, as the Senate takes up the spending bill. 

Senators have until midnight on Friday to avert a partial government shutdown. The effects of a shutdown would be limited over the weekend if the Senate is unable to hold an immediate vote.

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