Lawmakers in both parties have clamored for more Ukraine aid, determined to honor a U.S. commitment to helping the country in its grueling war against Russian aggression that looks likely to continue throughout the rest of the year. But staunch conservatives in both chambers, particularly in the House, are vehemently opposed to giving Ukraine another dime without a fuller accounting of how the $43 billion in assistance already allocated to the country has been spent.
Both Ukraine aid and disaster relief enjoy bipartisan support, however, and the funds could help shore up backing for a stopgap spending bill that averts a government shutdown in October.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there’s “strong bipartisan support in the Senate” to fund the issues addressed by Biden’s request.
“We hope to join with our Republican colleagues this fall to avert an unnecessary government shutdown and fund this critical emergency supplemental request,” he said.
But passing a short-term funding patch with emergency cash attached still presents a number of politically tricky hurdles for Congress to clear, given GOP hardliners have already signaled they would reject a stopgap that fails to enact steep spending cuts. Ukraine aid is likely to further alienate that group.
The money will also set Kyiv up for months of continued military operations, as critical supplies of artillery ammunition and other supplies run low due to heavy fighting and stiff Russian resistance along hundreds of miles of front lines.
The $13.1 billion Pentagon portion of the Ukraine proposal includes $9.5 billion more for the military to speed up the replenishment of inventories of weapons and equipment sent to the front lines. It also includes $3.6 billion for military, intelligence and other support for Ukraine.
Biden is also requesting $8.5 billion for the State Department and USAID, including $7.3 billion in economic, humanitarian and security assistance for Ukraine and other impacted countries.
Administration officials said the proposal aims to address Ukraine’s needs for the first quarter of the new fiscal year that begins in October, adding that existing funding will suffice until then.
“We won’t be bashful about going back to Congress beyond the first quarter of next year if we feel like we need to do that,” a senior administration official told reporters. “It’s really … the best estimate we can come up with for what we think we’re going to need to support Ukraine, at least for those first three months of the year.”
There is currently about $6.2 billion left in a Pentagon account to send existing equipment from U.S. stockpiles to Ukraine, and another $2.2 billion to put weapons and equipment on contract for later deliveries. That money will likely last until early fall, given current U.S. spending rates, meaning a new package will need to be in place soon to allow Ukraine to plan for operations through the winter, which is expected to continue to see heavy fighting as Ukrainian forces continue their push toward Russian-occupied Crimea.
FEMA, meanwhile, has warned that its disaster relief fund is running out of money as natural disasters ramp up in the coming months. Such destruction was evident Wednesday as wildfires ripped through the Hawaiian island of Maui, leading to at least 36 deaths.
An administration official said Thursday that the White House is monitoring the situation in Hawaii, including whether additional funding is needed in the future.
The administration’s request does not include aid to Taiwan’s military, money that had been broadly expected on Capitol Hill. Those funds could have appealed to China hawks, who want to see the U.S. move swiftly to help deter a potential invasion of the island.
A senior administration official told reporters that the funding request was limited to “immediate, emergency funding needs” such as the war in Ukraine, adding that they see “plenty of opportunities” to continue to assist Taiwan’s military.
Even before Biden requested more emergency funding from Congress, Senate appropriators decided to add $14 billion in emergency funding to their fiscal 2024 spending bills, padding out both defense and domestic funding amid bipartisan concerns that the budget levels established by the debt ceiling deal earlier this year would hamstring federal agencies.
Of that emergency money, $8 billion goes toward boosting the Pentagon’s budget, including over $1 billion to replenish weapons sent to Taiwan.
But in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has criticized the possibility of extra spending beyond the debt ceiling deal, while conservatives push to slash tens of billions of additional dollars from the bipartisan agreement that McCarthy negotiated with Biden. Granting Biden’s request for more emergency cash risks further angering the ultra-conservative lawmakers who could threaten McCarthy’s speakership, though it’s been months since any lawmakers have floated an attempt to strip him of the gavel.
In an interview Wednesday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a senior appropriator and co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, said he wanted enough aid to last the allied country an entire year “to send a message to [Vladimir] Putin, and our allies and Ukraine that we’re in this for the long haul.” He predicted that moderate Republicans and Democrats will get the funding over the finish line.
“It’s calculus; there are multiple variables that are intertwined and it comes at a difficult time,” he said. “The guys I talk to in the Republican party, and I’m an appropriator, say, ‘Oh no, we’re going to get this done.’ That’s what gives me hope.”
Joe Gould contributed to this report.