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Interest on nation's debt set to exceed defense budget as House weighs spending $95B on foreign aid

Pressure is building on House Speaker Mike Johnson to hold a vote on the Senate-passed foreign aid bill that includes $61 billion for Ukraine.

Published: February 20, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: February 21, 2024 7:02am

Interest on the U.S. national debt is set to exceed the entire defense budget of $822 billion for fiscal year 2024 as Republican leaders in the House of Representatives weigh spending $95 billion on foreign aid.

Congressional Budget Office Director Phillip Swagel warned that the growing $34 trillion national debt’s interest payments will cost more than the entire defense budget this fiscal year. "We have more debt and we have higher interest rates," he said on Fox Business Network on Tuesday. "It makes us more vulnerable as well with more debt if interest rates go yet higher, it's like a turbocharger with our interest payments going up."

According to a recent Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analysis, interest will exceed defense spending and Medicare payments in fiscal year 2024. 

"Spending on interest is projected to total $870 billion, while spending on national defense will total $822 billion. This has never been the case before, going back to at least 1940," read a new analysis from the CRFB. "In addition to breaching defense spending, interest costs are expected to exceed Medicare spending this year, making interest on the national debt the second largest line item in the FY 2024 federal budget, behind only Social Security."

Pressure is building on House Speaker Mike Johnson to hold a vote on the Senate-passed $95 billion foreign aid bill that includes $61 billion for Ukraine. The legislation does not include provisions that would cover the cost of the package.

"Vladimir Putin will not win if we stand united beside Ukraine in its fight for freedom," Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, wrote Tuesday on X. "Speaker Johnson, we have the votes to stop Putin in his tracks. Come back to work and put the bill on the floor."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, has said that a discharge petition would be likely to force a floor vote on the foreign aid package if Johnson doesn't put it on the floor. 

“I don’t see anyway of getting out of Israel, Indo Pacific and eventually Ukraine coming to the floor," McCaul said on Friday. "He’s either going to have to do it — put it on the floor himself — or it’s going to be by virtue of a discharge petition, which is a complete evisceration of his power, because it basically says we’re going to do this without the speaker being in charge."

The Senate border deal language was removed from the foreign aid package in the Senate after Senate Republicans had blocked that version from advancing in the chamber. Johnson had said it was "dead on arrival" in the House amid opposition from Republicans over several provisions that they said would not adequately secure the border. House GOP leaders were not directly involved in negotiating the agreement. 

Last week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about Johnson requesting a meeting with Biden over the border. She noted Biden previously met with congressional leaders in January. "What is there to negotiate, truly?" she said at a press briefing. "It's almost as if the speaker is negotiating with himself."

On Monday, Biden said he would be willing to meet with Johnson regarding Ukraine funding.

“Sure, I’d be happy to meet with him if he has anything to say," he said after blasting House Republicans for not voting on the foreign aid package yet.

The House is scheduled to come back into session on Feb. 28.

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