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House spending bill erases UNRWA, Gaza pier funding, blocks refugee resettlement

President Joe Biden has threatened to veto the House-passed State, Foreign Operations bill if it reaches his desk.
Exterior view of the U.S. Capitol building prior to a roundtable discussion on Supreme Court Ethics conducted by Democrats of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on June 11, 2024 in Washington, DC.

US lawmakers passed a spending bill Friday that would make deep cuts to US diplomatic funding and sweeping changes to US operations related to Gaza. 

The bill cuts funds for the State Department and US Agency for International Development by 11% compared to fiscal year 2023–24 funding levels. The House passed the legislation on a nearly party-line vote, 212-200. 

Republicans argued that the bill for fiscal year 2024–25 eliminates politically controversial or inefficient programs that American taxpayers do not support. Democrats warned the cuts would leave US diplomacy on life support. 

President Joe Biden has threatened to veto the House-passed State, Foreign Operations bill if it reaches his desk. 

“The bill could force the Department of State and USAID to implement hiring freezes, reductions in force, and contract suspensions,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy. 

The bill faces a cooling off period, with funding negotiations, a notoriously slow process in Washington, expected to move at an even more glacial pace this year due to lawmakers taking several weeks leave from the capital to hit the campaign trail. After elections in November, the more radical provisions — such as eliminating funding for the United Nations general budget, UNESCO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights — are likely to be weeded out as lawmakers draft a final spending bill to send to the president. 

Money for Israel and its neighbors 

The House legislation would provide $3.3 billion in military assistance to Israel, the exact amount requested by the Biden administration. 

The White House said it takes issue, however, with the Republican bill’s “growing number of restrictions” on funding for Palestinians, including a directive to split the West Bank and Gaza into separate budget operating units. 

The bill would block funds to resettle refugees from Gaza in the United States and eliminate funding for UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, and the Biden administration’s special representative for Palestinian affairs.

Republicans also aimed to punish the International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel by zeroing out funds for the international organizations. The House majority has strongly criticized probes by all three bodies' into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel during its war with Hamas. 

“You see the hypocrisy and the moral decay at the UN has only gotten worse, and is rearing its ugly head again, time and time again, with repeated brazen, antisemitic attacks against Israel,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said on the House floor.

As for Israel’s neighbors, the bill would provide $2 billion for Jordan, including $450 million to help address “urgent needs resulting from the malign activities of Iran and its proxies,” according to a summary by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. Egypt would be funded to the tune of $1.5 billion, including $75 million in military assistance.

Gaza death count 

Debate crossed party lines when Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) proposed inserting language to block the State Department from citing Gaza Health Ministry statistics. “At the end of the day, the Gaza Ministry of Health is the Hamas Ministry of Health,” the pro-Israel Democrat said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, Moskowitz’s fellow Democrat from California, urged her colleagues to vote no on the amendment. 

“As much as we wish there were other sources, this ministry is the only official source for Gaza casualties and is the de facto authority there. Israel has sealed Gaza’s borders, barring foreign journalists and others who could offer this reporting,” Lee said. 

The House adopted the Moskowitz amendment 269-144, with 62 Democrats voting in support. It will likely face opposition from the Democratic leadership in final negotiations. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) called the added provision “genocide denial.” 

“There’s so much anti-Palestinian racism in this chamber that my colleagues don’t even want to acknowledge that Palestinians exist at all, not when they’re alive, and now, not even when they’re dead,” said Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress. 

Lawmakers voted 103-308 to reject an amendment from Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) that would have eliminated funding for the Lebanese Armed Forces. Steube called Lebanon a “terror haven unwilling and unable to counter Hezbollah.” 

Republicans, however, pushed back on their colleague’s claim. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) said US forces embedded with the LAF report no evidence of US funds going to terrorist activity and added that the amendment would “only serve to embolden Hezbollah.” 

Republicans also voted to eliminate aid to Iraq, funds for the US-operated Gaza humanitarian aid pier and funding to enforce Biden's National Security Memorandum-20. The so-called NSM-20 is a nonbinding agreement the president struck with Democrats that directs the State Department to assess whether Israel is using US military assistance in compliance with international law. Senate Democrats will likely object to these last-minute additions to the House Republican bill.

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