Dems Help Save Johnson's Aid Package for Israel, Ukraine

Dems Help Save Johnson's Aid Package for Israel, Ukraine

Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, April 19, 2024

It’s Friday — but Congress isn’t done for the week. Here’s the latest.

House Advances Ukraine, Israel Aid as Dems Help Johnson, GOP

The House took a significant step Friday toward passing a long-delayed $95 billion package of foreign aid bills, as Democrats provided most of the votes needed to help the legislation clear procedural hurdles and overcome the opposition of far-right Republicans.

The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote saw 165 Democrats join with 151 Republicans to clear funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Fifty-five Republicans and 39 Democrats voted against allowing the legislation to advance.

In a highly unusual move, Democrats had also helped the bills pass through the House Rules Committee in a 9-3 vote late Thursday, ensuring that Republican holdouts Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Chip Roy of Texas would not be able to block the package.

The bills are now on track for final passage in the House on Saturday afternoon. They would provide more than $60 billion for Ukraine, including about $23 billion to replenish U.S. military stockpiles and some $10 billion in direct aid for Ukraine structured as a loan that can be forgiven later; about $17 billion in weapons for Israel and just over $9 billion in humanitarian assistance; and $8.1 billion to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region.

A fourth bill includes some Republican priorities, including new sanctions, a measure that could potentially ban TikTok and a provision to allow seized Russian assets in the United States to be used to rebuild Ukraine.

Those bills, once passed, will be bundled together and sent to the Senate, which is expected to then approve the package within days, though hardliners in that chamber reportedly may seek to drag out the process.

A fifth bill set to get a vote in the House on Saturday includes strict Republican border security provisions. It is expected to fail, though, because it is being brought up under a process that requires the support of a two-thirds majority and does not have the backing of Democrats.

Passage of the foreign aid bills would represent a victory for President Joe Biden, who initially requested a supplemental spending package for Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific last October and has long urged the House to pass the aid plan. “The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment.”

The expected House votes will also represent a win of sorts for Speaker Mike Johnson. Johnson had refused to allow the House to vote on a Senate-passed aid bill for two months. Then, under pressure to provide support for Israel and Ukraine — and already facing a Republican call for his ouster — he chose to bring up individual aid bills that largely mirrored the elements of the Senate plan and tack on some Republican priorities.

Johnson’s strategy, relying on Democrats, has invited the fury of isolationist, hard-right Republicans who oppose further aid for Ukraine or insist that the U.S. border crisis must be addressed before we help foreign allies. Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, announced Friday that he was signing on to the motion to oust Johnson, joining Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Massie. “With Republicans’ two-seat House margin, Gosar’s signature means the speaker could be ousted unless Democrats decide to rescue Johnson,” The Washington Post notes. Republican Rep. Eli Crane, also from Arizona, reportedly said he was “open” to the idea of removing Johnson.

The bottom line: The foreign aid package appears set to pass the House on Saturday, though the process is likely to require lawmakers to cobble together shifting bipartisan coalitions given differences in support for Ukraine and Israel. The questions then will be how quickly the Senate can act and whether Johnson will soon face — and can survive — a motion to oust him. Once the aid bill is signed into law, the Pentagon reportedly has a military aid package for Ukraine “ready to go.”

Quote of the Day

“You can’t govern by shooting yourself in the head every day.”

– Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, speaking to Politico’s Ian Ward about the political battles threatening the slim Republican majority in the House.

A famously combative leader, Gingrich cleared the way for a GOP House majority in 1995 for the first time in nearly four decades, and his take-no-prisoners approach to politics unquestionably set Republicans on a path toward the right-wing rebellion currently threatening the speakership of Mike Johnson. But Gingrich says times have changed and is now encouraging Republicans to fall in line behind their conservative leader.

Gingrich said Johnson’s majority is unusually weak because his caucus includes “six or eight narcissists — people who think that they individually get to screw up everything.” Gingrich singled out Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who he called a “super narcissist.”

Gingrich called on House Republicans to abandon the idea of pushing Johnson out of his speaker role as punishment for working with Democrats. “You’ve got to remember, this isn’t some game at a PTA meeting,” he said. “This is the House of Representatives. It has serious constitutional obligations. We live in a dangerous world, and we look like we are absurdly incapable of governing ourselves.”

As Wealthy Flee High-Tax States, Auditors Are on Their Tails

Plenty of people take steps to reduce their tax burden, but only a handful go so far as to arrange flight times to maximize their time away from the high-tax state they moved out of but still visit regularly.

Bloomberg’s Laura Nahmias and Eliyahu Kamisher write Thursday about the cat-and-mouse game between wealthy New Yorkers who have moved to Florida or some other no-tax jurisdiction and the state tax auditors trying to catch them coming back to their former homes for too many days a year. Just one day too many could mean a multi-million-dollar tax bill if the auditors can prove that residency requirements were met.

“When it comes to taxes and the wealthy, every minute matters — especially for those who have left New York and declared residency elsewhere,” Nahmias and Kamisher write. “At a time more high earners are departing, or at least are claiming to, state officials are stepping up already-intense scrutiny to make sure former residents have actually moved. It’s a complex operation that involves cutting-edge artificial intelligence and tracking everything from travel to the location of people’s pets.”

The battle over residency has become so entrenched that someone developed an app, called TaxDay, that tracks one’s location on a day-to-day basis, providing real-time updates to help relocators avoid the threshold of residency, which is 184 days a year in many states.

The problem is particularly acute in New York, where the number of millionaires leaving for lower-tax locales increased sharply during the pandemic. Residency auditors dig into personal details to look for clues that a relocation may have been a ploy to avoid taxes, and may demand to know where a pet was buried, where medical services are provided or where a beloved race car is routinely driven.

The reason for the close scrutiny is, of course, money. “We are incredibly reliant on New York’s high earners for our income tax revenue,” Amanda Hiller, the state’s acting tax commissioner, said last year. And the scrutiny clearly pays off. Between 2013 and 2017, the state conducted roughly 15,000 residency audits, which produced about $1 billion in tax payments.

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