House approves $40 billion Ukraine aid bill, sends to senate
The US House on Tuesday night approved a more than $40 billion emergency Ukraine spending bill that pays for new weapons and provides economic and humanitarian assistance.
The 368 to 57 vote underscores bipartisan support for Ukraine in a Congress deeply divided on most other issues. The legislation, which is significantly larger than the $33 billion aid package President Joe Biden requested last month, now heads to the Senate where approval is likely next week.
The bill includes $19.7 billion for the Defense Department, more than $3 billion above the level asked for by the Biden administration. This includes the $6 billion in direct security assistance to Ukraine that Biden sought last month and $9.05 billion to replenish weapons stocks sent from the Pentagon to Ukraine. The package would provide $4 billion in foreign military financing for Ukraine and other countries affected by the invasion to help them purchase weapons.
The bill also includes $8.8 billion in direct economic support for Ukraine along with funds to repair the US Embassy in Kyiv, document war crimes and protect against nuclear fuel leaks.
In addition, the measure would provide $4.35 billion for global food and humanitarian aid to be administered by the US Agency for International Development and another $700 million in global food funding at the State Department. The inclusion of the funds was made despite some concerns from Republicans that the global food crisis should not be addressed in the bill.
The legislation also contains language to allow Ukrainian refugees to access US government benefits, over the objections of some Republicans.
Provisions requested by Biden to ease the resettlement of Afghan refugees were dropped at the last minute after the GOP objected to them.
Senate Republicans heard a plea for aid from Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, during a luncheon Tuesday and emerged saying they felt Ukraine had properly accounted for how it has spent previous assistance in its war against Russia.
“It’s an emergency and they’re desperate for it,” Ohio Republican Rob Portman said after the lunch. Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said he had pushed to get $600 million in defense funds added to the measure and he was getting closer to supporting it. “It’s moving in the right direction,” he said.
Biden met earlier Tuesday with Pelosi and other lawmakers who recently traveled to Ukraine.
Prospects for congressional approval of the bill improved after Biden late last week agreed to a demand by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that it be separated from a stalled Covid funding measure.
A deal early last month on a $10 billion coronavirus package ran aground after Republicans demanded an amendment vote barring Biden from lifting restrictions on migration over the southern US border. If the amendment is offered to the bill, it would likely pass given the opposition of moderate Senate Democrats to lifting the restriction on asylum seekers and their fears of a surge of border crossings after it ends on May 23, as planned by the administration.
With Biden’s public blessing, that virus aid bill now will be on a separate track.
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort. Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away,” Biden said in a statement Monday.
The Senate, where procedural obstacles often take days to resolve, would likely pass the bill early next week unless all 100 senators agree to expedite the process.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who often objects to such expedited proceedings, said in an interview he opposes the bill because it relies on deficit spending to pay for the aid. BM