US Senate passes $1.5 trillion spending bill, including more aid for Israel, help for Ukraine

US Senate passes $1.5 trillion spending bill, including more aid for Israel, help for Ukraine
The $1.5 trillion spending bill passed in both chambers this week includes $13.6 billion in urgent aid for the crisis in Ukraine and $1 billion in extra aid for Israel's Iron Dome, as critics point to pitfalls in America's legislative voting system.
4 min read
Washington, D.C.
12 March, 2022
The bipartisan $1.5 trillion spending package is expected to be signed by Biden in the coming days. (Getty)

A $1.5 trillion spending bill passed this week by both the US House and Senate, and soon to be signed by President Joe Biden, is raising concern among some for its inclusion of $1 billion additional aid to Israel for its Iron Dome defence system.

"My main concern is that it’s an alarming example of a blank cheque to Israel," Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), told The New Arab. "It’s a huge omnibus. They know it will pass without opposition."

The 2,741-page bipartisan-backed legislation, passed in the House 361-69 on national security and 260-171 on domestic programs and in the Senate 68-31, will fund the federal government through the end of September of this year.

The omnibus, referring to the additional provisions not related to the heart of the legislation (for which many would not necessarily otherwise vote) includes a range of other provisions, such as $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine and neighbouring eastern European countries, as well as an additional $1 billion in aid for Israel’s Iron Dome defence system – adding to its already $3.8 billion in annual aid from the US.

The provision for Israel was a response to the loss of Dome batteries from last spring’s Gaza conflict.

In September, the additional $1 billion was voted down by several progressive Democrats. The provision has been debated for months, and finally made it into this week’s spending bill.

The bill also includes Israel Relations Normalization Act, which builds upon the Abraham Accords, the normalisation agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, negotiated under the Donald Trump’s administration in 2020 by the former president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

At the time, the deal had strong opposition in the Democratic party, which has gradually lessened with time.

Following the House passage of the bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer issued a statement from his office expressing his pride in the inclusion of the Iron Dome funding as well as the Abraham Accords.

"I was proud to support robust funding to replenish and enhance Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system in the omnibus passed by the House tonight," a 9 March statement from his office said.

"Moreover, it is essential that Israel not only maintain a qualitative military edge overall but that we help Israelis develop and deploy the next generation of missile defence to cover all of its airspace and that Iron Dome can provide that coverage even sooner," the statement added.

His statement went on to praise the Abraham Accords, saying: "The Abraham Accords were a testament to the mutual benefits of normalization and how building stronger ties between Arab states and Israel will help make a peaceful, two-state solution more attainable for Israelis and Palestinians."

Josh Ruebner, director of government relations at the Institute for Middle East Understanding, told TNA: "It is legislative malpractice for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to slip all of these items, which deepen US complicity with Israel's regime of settler-colonialism, apartheid, and military occupation, into a must-pass budget bill, especially when this bill also contained much-needed humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people as they resist a brutal attack by Putin.

"Basically, Hoyer put Members of Congress in an unconscionable situation where they had to vote both to support the Ukrainian people while simultaneously providing Israel weapons to harm and kill Palestinians," he said.

"The same righteous impulse we're seeing today in the United States to support the Ukrainian people's struggle against oppression should be the same animating impulse we have toward the Palestinian people as they resist Israeli oppression. Instead, Hoyer cynically and cruelly pitted them against each other by the way in which he set up this vote," Ruebner added.

Similarly, David Frank, a professor of rhetoric at University of Oregon, expressed his disappointment in the current legislative voting system with its omnibus packages, particularly with the Iron Dome.

He sees this as money that would be better spent on Palestinian infrastructure and schools, and worries that increased military aid to Israel will only encourage further military build-up in the region.

"The system of the US expenditure of funds is broken," he tells TNA. "Progressive members of Congress are blackmailed into supporting measures they don’t support. I haven’t seen a proposal that would have trade-offs. That’s the great tragedy of politics."