(Missouri Independent) – The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to provide an additional $40 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military assistance to Ukraine as its troops continue fighting back against Russia’s invasion.
The legislation, released just hours before, now goes to the U.S. Senate, where leaders hope to quickly send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk, though procedural hurdles in that chamber could slow down the process.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement announcing the bill that U.S. lawmakers “have a moral responsibility to deliver this support to help end the grievous loss of life, hold [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his cronies accountable, and protect global democracy.”
Alabama Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt gave the first signal that GOP lawmakers would support the measure, saying, “In short, this is a good bill and I would encourage my colleagues to vote yes.”
The House voted 368-57 to pass the bill.
Second aid package
The new legislation, the second aid package since Russia began a war in Ukraine in late February, would bring the total U.S. investment in a conflict that has become something of a proxy fight for democracy to nearly $54 billion.
Congress approved a $13.6 billion relief package in March, but funding has quickly dwindled as Ukrainian forces used military aid to hold on to vast swaths of their country, including the capital city of Kyiv.
Biden asked lawmakers in late April to replenish U.S. funding for Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, saying another $33 billion is needed to assist Ukrainian forces as well as provide economic and humanitarian aid.
“This so-called supplemental funding addresses the needs of the Ukrainian military during the critical weeks and months again,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room in the White House. “And it begins the transition to longer-term security assistance that’s going to help Ukraine deter and continue to defend against Russian aggression.”
U.S. House Democrats increased that funding request by billions of dollars, saying they believed more money was needed for military and humanitarian aid.
“In the bipartisan and bicameral negotiations in assembling this package, there was an interest among Members in adding additional funding for military and humanitarian assistance,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
The bill would provide the U.S. Defense Department with $8.7 billion to resupply stocks of U.S. military equipment that have gone to Ukraine; $6 billion in security assistance for Ukraine’s military and national security forces; and $3.9 billion for European Command Operations.
The U.S. State Department would receive $13.9 billion for refugee assistance, food aid, economic assistance, combating human trafficking, and military financing.
Another $4.4 billion would go to the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide food aid to people around the world who are experiencing food shortages as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The funding package is expected to last for about five months, though there’s uncertainty about how long Russia’s war in Ukraine will last, or what the country will look like in the months and years ahead.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the next month or two of fighting will be significant as the Russians attempt to reinvigorate their efforts.”
“But even if they are successful, we are not confident that the fight in the Donbas will effectively end the war,” Haines said, referring to the region in Eastern Ukraine where the Russian military has gained some ground.
Instead, Haines said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine” that includes taking land outside the Donbas region.
Putin, she said, is counting on the United States and European Union’s “resolve to weaken as both food shortages, inflation and energy prices get worse.”
No COVID-19 spending
The deal for additional aid to Ukraine will not include additional funding to address the COVID-19 pandemic domestically and abroad, despite Biden and Democrats pushing for that bill to advance with the Ukraine relief legislation.
Biden asked Congress for $22.5 billion for testing, treatments, and vaccines in March, but a $10 billion agreement between Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has sat around for weeks.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has opposed adding the COVID-19 relief to the Ukraine aid package.
He’s also called for a floor vote on an amendment to keep Title 42 in place, saying the most likely place for that to happen is on the coronavirus relief bill.
That Trump-era designation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows border patrol officials to turn away migrants at the Southwestern border during the public health crisis.
The CDC plans to end that program later this month, a decision that brought a rebuke from Republicans and concerns from centrist Democrats that the administration wasn’t fully prepared to handle the expected surge of migrants.
Biden signaled Monday that he’s okay with de-linking the COVID-19 aid from the new Ukraine funding bill, saying in a statement that Republican and Democratic leaders had told him “that such an addition would slow down action on the urgently needed Ukrainian aid.”
Biden, however, renewed his push for lawmakers to quickly find a way forward on a bipartisan coronavirus relief package.
“Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die needlessly,” he said.
(Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash)