The world watches as major US aid package moves to the House for a showdown


After a bruising five months of negotiations, the US Senate passed a $95B aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan just before sunrise on Tuesday (local time), in a 70-29 vote.

The bill, which now needs to pass the House, includes support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia, Israel’s conflict with Hamas, regional efforts to deter aggression by China, and humanitarian aid for Palestinians and Ukrainians.

By today’s standards, the vote was remarkably bipartisan, with leaders backing it for similar reasons: the Senate minority leader said it’s about rebuilding the US military and restoring US credibility, while the majority leader said Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing will “act accordingly” if the US fails to defend its allies.

In passing the bill, the Senate overcame two main objections: 26 senators argued the US should focus more on priorities back home, and another three objected to aiding Israel given the death toll in Gaza.

So what happens next?

That’s for the House to decide:

  • The Speaker (Mike Johnson) can decide there’ll be no vote at all
  • If he calls a vote and it passes, it goes to President Biden for signature
  • If the House instead rejects the bill, we’re back to square one
  • Or the House could split the bill and send its parts back to the Senate (though the Senate first combined them to push it all through), and
  • Some have even flagged the possibility of using a ‘discharge petition‘ to bypass the Speaker and force a House vote, though this rare move would need serious bipartisan buy-in

So for now, it’ll come down to whether Speaker Johnson puts the bill to a vote. There’ve only been a handful of modern instances where such a bipartisan Senate bill hasn’t gone to a House vote, and Johnson himself has previously backed the bill’s ideas. If this bill went to a vote, there’s a solid chance it’d pass.

But in his initial statement after the Senate vote, Johnson gave a pretty strong indication he won’t bring the bill to a House vote because it “fails to address America’s border crisis”. The Hill also points out that if he brings the Senate bill to a vote, he risks “a revolt from conservatives; a bid to end his Speakership”.

Whatever happens, the current legislative schedule means we might not have any answers until the end of February, or later.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

This Senate Bill is trying to do a few things at the same time: ensure Putin’s invasion of Ukraine fails, deter China from attempting something similar on Taiwan, and send a message generally that rumours of America’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

So, what we’re watching play out in Congress is really about how the US sees itself in the 21st century. For most of our lifetimes, the US has seen the value in upholding the post-WWII order it helped build (and yes, which it’s also undermined).

But the costs of upholding that order are now higher than ever. At the same time, for those countries that want to maintain the current world order, the costs of the US pulling up its drawbridge are now higher than ever, too.

So leaders from Kyiv to Canberra and Tokyo to Taipei will be watching what the House does and, we suspect, hoping Churchill was right when he reflected on similar frustrations from WWII: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.

Also worth noting:

  • An earlier bipartisan Senate bill last week included major border reforms, but was voted down by its original Republican backers after the party’s presidential frontrunner (former president Donald Trump) opposed it.
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