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Dems And Senate GOP Appear Boxed In On Border And Ukraine

Who will blink first in the battle over border and Ukraine funding?

  • Disagreements over funding requests have created a political deadlock
  • Speaker Mike Johnson's surprise move fully funded Israel but left out Ukraine, border funding and redirected unspent IRS expansion money
  • Senate leader Schumer plans to pass a comprehensive bill, challenging Johnson's approach
  • Johnson's strategy involves tying Ukraine funding to border security measures, setting the stage for a political battle with uncertain outcomes

In our years watching the wily GOP leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, we know that much like a magician, he always has a trick up his sleeve. Counting him and his clever tactics out - he is the master of senate parliamentary procedures - is a chess game we will likely lose.

With that caveat, it appears that Biden, the Democrats in the Senate, and the Neocon Senate GOP, including McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and other ardent supporters of Ukraine funding, are hopelessly boxed in; unless, of course, the House leadership under Speaker Johnson caves before the pressure of a government shutdown. (The government only has funding through November 17.)

There are several rapidly moving parts to this story.  

The opening salvo. After visiting Israel, President Biden delivered an address to Americans requesting $106 billion for national emergencies. The breakdown was $61.4 billion for Ukraine, $14.3 billion for Israel's air and missile defenses, $9 billion for humanitarian assistance in Israel, Gaza, and Ukraine, $7 billion for Taiwan, and $14 billion for America's southern border. At the time, the House was leaderless, having vacated former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. 

Move 1. During the next few weeks, the House went through multiple speaker votes, trying out various candidates - Jim Jordan, Steve Calise, and Tom Emmer - and finally settled on Mike Johnson. The Louisiana Republican was largely unknown to the pro-Ukraine lobby, having served as a relative backbencher. But Johnson has a staunch Christian conservative voting record, strongly supports Israel, hates omnibus bills where numerous unrelated items are packed into one, and cares about the growing deficit. He also has a history of voting against money for Ukraine. The pro-Ukraine and soft-on-border groups felt uneasy but hoped that time and Beltway pressures would tame the new speaker. That was the Uniparty's first mistake.

Move 2. In a classic move, Speaker Johnson led a House bill that passed 226-196 on Wednesday. The bill only contained money for Israel's military defense - the $14.3 billion that Biden requested. But, it fully funded the request, so if Biden wanted to make a statement to the world that America fully supports Israel's right to defend itself, the People's House had spoken. 

But there were two significant problems for the Uniparty. There was no money for Ukraine or Biden's other priorities, including the border. Also, Johnson paid for the bill by using unspent money set aside for the massive expansion of the IRS. This $80 billion boondoggle, all borrowed, hiring 87,000 new IRS agents, received Pelosi's blessing on her way out as speaker last December. 

The corporate media and the Uniparty pounced on Johnson, saying he was fiscally irresponsible because a CBO study showed that fewer IRS agents would lead to lower tax revenue and higher deficits. Senate leader Schumer promised not even to take it up. "Speaker Johnson and House Republicans released a totally unserious and woefully inadequate package that omitted aid to Ukraine, omitted humanitarian assistance to Gaza, no funding for the Indo-Pacific, and made funding for Israel conditional on hard-right, never-going-to-pass proposals," Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "What a joke. It's not going anywhere. As I said, it's dead almost before it's born." 

In classic fashion, Schumer vowed to pass his version in the Senate (the full $106 billion, plus perhaps more money for the border to attract GOP votes) and send it to the House.

Move 3. But Speaker Johnson was up to Schumer's challenge. Appearing on Larry Kudlow's Fox Business show, Johnson said that his next move would be to tie Ukraine funding to border funding. Employing a classic poison-pill strategy, Johnson said that he would include money for Ukraine (how much, he didn't say), but that would be conditional on five border security things that must happen:

  • Finish the wall 
  • End catch and release
  • End abuse of parole authority
  • Reform the broken asylum system and
  • Restart ‘Remain in Mexico.’

Johnson's move is brilliant because, unlike on Ukraine, he has substantial support from GOP senators on his approach to beefing up border security. As we noted this week, the Democrats only want money to spend on sanctuary cities but not prevent more illegal migration.

ABC News said that Steve Daines, R-Mont, is one such senator.

That supplemental the Biden administration proposed is a joke. It is not about throwing more money at the border, we've got to slow the flow, it's about changing policies. They don't need a lot more money at the border; they've got to change the policies to remove the incentives to come across the border.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. said:

This needs to be deterrence, needs to be a change in policy, it needs to be made sure that what we're going to do is see these (migration) numbers come down not just a little bit but very very measurably.  

Schumer is vehemently opposed to ANY policy changes on the border, saying:

We are not for policy changes

The Uniparty's move is awaited. If the Senate sends to the House a massive $106+ billion request without offsets to pay for the spending, the bill will be dead on arrival. It could pass with Democratic and a few moderate Republican votes, of course, but Speaker Johnson has the power to not even bring it up for a vote, the privilege of being the chamber's leader. 

The media will cry foul and blame it all on the GOP House. But the blame game is typical in Washington. Meanwhile, nothing will get done on either the border or Ukraine. Illegal migration will continue unabated. Sanctuary cities will continue to struggle. Ukraine (and Europe) will suffer without a promise of funding.

In our system, both the House and Senate have to agree to each word in any legislation. Every word. Only then can it go to President Biden's desk for signature. That moment looks distant - so no checkmate for either party, but a draw. 

But, for the House GOP and the average American taxpayer determined to neutralize the out-of-control Beltway deficit-loving crowd, a draw may well be a win.

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