Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Congress is poised this week to approve an estimated $12 billion in new economic aid and military assistance to Ukraine. But don’t expect a lot of debate or even fanfare because it is being rolled into a stopgap measure to keep the entire federal government operating until December.
Called a continuing resolution, the massive spending bill must be passed by Friday to avoid a shutdown. This was obviously the m-ost convenient way for Bi-den to push the Ukrainian aid measure through: Majority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spearheaded its inclusion in the resolution, and, with most members of Congress in favor of the previous aid packages and precious few days for any floor discussion, any critics of the proposal have little or no time to question it.
And plus, who’s going to chance being accused of w-anting to “shut down the g-overnment” by raising a stink?
According to the most recent reports on Monday night, lawmakers have agreed to include $12 billion — $4.5 billion for weapons and equipment, and $2.7 for military, intelligence, and other defense support, plus another $4.5 billion to keep the Ukrainian government running for another quarter.
Meanwhile, Democrats’ attention seems to be foc-used elsewhere, on a completely different potential stumbling block: a permitting reform measure by Sen Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Nevertheless, the first step is a cloture vote to move the massive bill forward, with the Senate beginning deliberations today.
This new money is on top of the $40 billion approved in May. Since the war began, the U.S. has sent more than $15 billion in weapons and military assistance to Kyiv in its war against invading Russian forces.
But critics say there has been little visible oversight in Washington of the money already spent, whether it is getting to where it needs to go, or being used effectively by the forces that need it.
“Oversight of Ukraine aid is sorely needed,” Julia Gledhill, a defense analyst for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), tells Responsible Statecraft. “The State and Defense departments are handling billions of dollars in Ukraine funding, but neither have permanent inspectors general in place to investigate and prevent abuse of funds.”
The word is that the Democrats are unified behind the new aid package (recall no Democrat in either the House or Senate voted against the $40 billion measure in May). Republicans, on the other hand represent the potential opposition, with 11 GOP senators and 57 House Republicans dissenting on that same vote.
According to recent reports, Republican complaints of this latest tranche have focused on the fact it was being tied to the CR and the lack of debate.
“I haven’t seen a detailed list of exactly how they want to spend the money,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said on Sept. 19. “I think whatever we do on Ukraine, we ought to be doing it separately from the CR. I think we’ve gotta have a clean CR that goes through Congress.”
In that same CNN article, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.C.) said he was “open for discussion” about the Ukraine aid. The House side seems a bit more restive: a recent Politico article quoted Rep. Chip Roy, (R-Texas) balking at what seemed to be rubber stamping aid for Ukraine.
“There’s no limiting pri-nciple. So no, count me ag-ainst throwing more money at Ukraine without having a serious conversation about guns and butter, a serious conversation about why we’re spending it and how it’s in our national security interest,” he said.
But these primary conc-erns — oversight and deb-ate over whether continuing aid is in the U.S. interest (a-nd whether, when not pa-ired with diplomatic strategy, we might be prolonging the war at Ukraine’s ultimate expense) — will be likely overtaken this week by the bipartisan desire to keep sending aid. This includes party leaders and chairs/ranking members of the prominent Armed Services Committees who believe that new and more weapons will put Ukrainians in a position of strength from which to eventually negotiate.
In fact, folks like Sen. James Inhofe want to give more. “This aid package is insufficient to provide the Ukrainians with what they need to win,” the Repub-lican ranking member of the SASC complained on Twitter in early September.
Politically, however, Biden is smart to get this through now. If Republicans take over the House after the November midterms, they are expected to throw up many more roadblocks against additional Biden/Democratic spending, and that might jeopardize further Ukraine aid. But that’s not set in stone: Establishment institutions like the Republican Policy Committee are clear the assistance to Ukraine must continue. In fact, they tie it to our foreign policy writ large:
“We must leave absolutely no doubt in the minds of Russia’s, China’s, or any other nation’s leaders about U.S. resolve to support sovereignty and self-determination around the globe,” the RPC said in Sept. 12 paper. “Decisive military aid to Ukraine will accomplish this task.”
Courtesy: Responsible Statecraft.