Partisan politics threaten to derail Ukraine aid package as Biden runs out of cash
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is nearly out of funds to keep sending much-needed U.S. military aid to Ukraine, and partisanship in Congress threatens to delay swift passage of a bill for additional aid.
An official with the White House Office of Management and Budget tells Defense News that Biden only has about $250 million left of the $3.5 billion that Congress has authorized the president to use. to transfer military equipment to Ukraine from US stocks.
That gives Congress a limited time to pass additional aid to Ukraine, but the complex politics of a sharply divided Senate could delay final passage of the package.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., hinted after Tuesday’s weekly Democratic caucus luncheon that he would double down on his earlier-month proposal to tie additional aid to Ukraine with an aid package international COVID-19, which Republicans previously withheld.
Asked by Defense News about the pairing plan, Schumer said COVID-19 aid is “very, very important.”
“I urge our fellow Republicans to embrace COVID aid as soon as possible,” Schumer said. “It is very risky for the health of the American people to play political games with him.”
But immediately afterwards, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters his party would likely continue to block passage of the coronavirus relief package — and by extension any potential Ukrainian supplements included in that legislation — unless they get votes on blocking Biden. reported plans to repeal a pandemic-related immigration provision known as Title 42.
“Senate Republicans are going to push for a Title 42 amendment because it’s extremely important,” McConnell told reporters after a Republican Caucus luncheon. “I’m going to make it clear to you and the Majority Leader that we’re going to have to have a vote on Title 42 at some point here – in all likelihood on the COVID package.”
Biden told the White House last week that he had “almost exhausted” the withdrawal power he has from Congress to continue delivering aid to Ukraine. The Department of Defense is still formulating the exact dollar amount it might need to continue providing rapid aid to Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited the White House and met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, last week to request additional military aid as well as funding for humanitarian and mine clearance operations .
The dwindling Ukrainian funds leave the notoriously slow Senate very little room for error. But Schumer’s remarks gave no indication that Biden’s urgent call for a new Ukraine aid package last week shifted his political calculus by tying it to global pandemic aid and the politically thorny issue of immigration that Republicans have tied to the COVID-19 agenda.
It’s also unclear whether the Biden administration favors a standalone aid package for Ukraine or its association with global COVID-19 aid. When asked on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the answer hinged on further conversations with Congress.
“We don’t have the mechanism yet,” she told reporters.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the defense spending panel, speculated that the Ukrainian supplement would eventually pass as a stand-alone bill. When asked if he preferred Schumer’s pairing approach, he replied, “I don’t care. I think we just have to do it.
Last month, Washington finalized the $1.5 trillion fiscal year 2022 spending bill, which includes $13.6 billion in new aid for the Ukraine crisis. The money was largely intended to restore military stocks of equipment already transferred to Ukrainian military units through the President’s Withdrawal Authority.
In the meantime, the House plans to vote on a bill later this week that could help provide additional military hardware to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Lend-Lease in Defense of Democracy Act, which the Senate passed unanimously earlier this month, would remove legal requirements that currently govern Biden’s ability to loan military equipment to Kyiv as part of of the World War II Lend-Lease program.
Bryant Harris is the congressional reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of US foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He has previously written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.
Joe Gould is a senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.