Freshly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson is defending his plan to fund U.S. aid to Israel by gutting the Internal Revenue Service as evidence of Republicans “trying to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s resources,” even as research points to the plan adding significantly to the government deficit.
Johnson’s first significant move since his meteoric rise to power was to push forward with a bill to pay for a $14.3 billion aid package for Israel by cutting the same amount from the IRS.
The bill, which passed the House largely along party lines on Thursday, faces a steep uphill battle in the Senate, given that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promises to avoid bringing it up for a vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’d prefer to have the Israel aid incorporated into a broader aid package that would include funding to Ukraine and Taiwan as well as reforms to U.S. border policy. President Joe Biden—who in October proposed a $106 billion foreign aid package that would do just that—has also threatened to veto the House legislation if it comes across his desk
Johnson defended his plan in a Sunday interview with Fox News’ Shannon Beam. “We weighed priorities and said, ‘It is more important to protect Israel than to hire more IRS agents,’” he said.
“Instead of printing new dollars or borrowing it from another nation to send over to fulfill our obligations and help our ally, we want to pay for it. What a concept,” he added. “We are trying to change how Washington works.”
A nonpartisan report released by the Congressional Budget Office challenges Johnson’s assessment and finds that the plan would actually result in over $26 billion in lost government revenue over the next decade, which translates to adding over $12 billion to the deficit.
That’s because the cuts target funding to the agency provided by Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act that focuses on making it easier for people to pay their taxes and for the agency to crack down on wealthy tax cheats.
“All of those [Inflation Reduction Act] funds go to increased scrutiny on tax evasion going on at the highest wealth — that is millionaires, billionaires, large corporations and large complex partnerships,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said last week. “When you reduce those audits, you reduce the amount of money that we can collect and return to the Treasury for other priorities,” Werfel predicted the GOP plan would add up to $90 billion to the deficit.
In his Sunday interview, Johnson dodged a question from Beam about whether his plan would add to the deficit. “Right now, we have a $33.6 trillion deferral debt. Just last week, the Treasury Department of the Biden administration said we’re going to have to borrow over $1.5 trillion over the next two quarters, six months to continue our operation as a government,” Johnson said. “This is not a sustainable track. We can take care of our obligations, but we can do it in a responsible manner, and that’s what we’re committed to.”
Johnson also defended the House GOP’s plans to marry funding for Ukraine with funding for the U.S. southern border. “When you couple Ukraine and the border, that makes sense to people,” he said. “If we’re going to protect Ukraine’s border … we have to take care of our own border first.”
Though the House’s Israel aid bill is almost certainly dead on arrival in the Senate, Johnson’s intransigence does mean that Congress will likely continue to struggle to approve any emergency spending plan that would provide aid to Israel and Ukraine in the coming weeks.