A demonstrator holds the Ukrainian flag at the Pennsylvania Capitol during a protest on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).
WASHINGTON — Congress is working quickly to determine how much military and humanitarian aid it should send to Ukraine as the war in that country continues to claim lives and send hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing as refugees.
Lawmakers are working with the Biden administration to provide billions in funding at the same time negotiators continue to work towards bipartisan agreement on more than $1.5 trillion in government funding ahead of a March 11 deadline.
Democrats and Republicans reached a framework earlier this month on that government funding package and have since been drafting the bills behind closed doors. But the five-day-old war in Ukraine and concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s potential ambitions beyond that country have led to calls for a significant uptick in U.S. military and humanitarian aid.
The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve $6.4 billion in additional assistance, but Ukraine’s needs are quickly evolving as Russian troops continue pouring into the country in an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government.
The White House emergency spending request would provide $3.5 billion for the U.S. Defense Department to bolster the number of American soldiers in nearby countries and increase the amount of military equipment flowing to Ukrainian troops.
I was honored to join @RepSusanWild for a roundtable with Ukrainian Americans in Allentown. I'm bringing their concerns to Washington when I return this week and I will continue to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people in the face of Putin's invasion. pic.twitter.com/LIAoUsANUT
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) February 28, 2022
The other $2.9 billion would go to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development for security assistance to numerous countries within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as humanitarian assistance and funding to counter Russian cyberattacks and disinformation, according to an administration official.
This funding would be in addition to $1 billion in security assistance and $80 million in humanitarian assistance the U.S. has sent to Ukraine during the past year.
The Biden administration official stressed that as the war in Ukraine continues to evolve the conversation with lawmakers about how much aid to send and where to send it will change as well.
That could cause significant challenges for lawmakers and staff trying to reach bipartisan agreement on spending levels, especially if Russia gains more ground in the coming week, or succeeds in toppling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday morning that she intends to support the emergency funding request, but said when the House votes on a bill will be determined, in part, by President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.
“We can’t vote until we have a number. We’ll see what the president has to say tomorrow night,” the California Democrat said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has signaled strong GOP support for increased defense spending to counter Putin’s attack on Ukraine and ensure NATO countries are defended should Russia move beyond Ukraine.
“The United States and NATO must redouble our material support for Ukraine’s resistance, further shore up our allies, get serious about energy independence, and invest in the capabilities needed for long-term military competition with Russia and China,” McConnell said in a statement last week. “Here in Congress, upcoming defense spending measures will provide an opportunity to lead by example.”
Delayed funding bills
Lawmakers and their staffs are still negotiating the funding levels and policy throughout the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the regular operations of the federal government.
Those bills were supposed to pass before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, but Congress regularly delays negotiations by approving temporary government spending bills. So far this fiscal year, lawmakers have approved three stopgap spending measures, continuing funding levels and policies from the Trump administration through March 11.
Republicans and Democrats are both optimistic they could reach agreement and hold votes before getting too close to that deadline to cause concerns over a government shutdown.
But those negotiations are typically complicated enough without the possibility of billions in emergency aid riding along as a war continues to claim lives and alter the balance of power in Europe.
The top appropriator in the Senate, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, said in a statement that he plans to work with his counterparts “to provide the necessary resources to respond to this unwarranted conflict.”
“Putin’s aggressions and the unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people is one of the greatest threats democracy and the principle of national sovereignty have faced in decades,” Leahy said.
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