US approves $13.6 billion for Ukraine in huge spending bill

PTI | | Updated on: Mar 10, 2022
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Democrats and Republicans in Congress struck a deal on a long-delayed $1.5 trillion spending bill that would fund the US government through the rest of the fiscal year and provide $13.6 billion to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Democrats and Republicans in Congress struck a deal on a long-delayed $1.5 trillion spending bill that would fund the US government through the rest of the fiscal year and provide $13.6 billion to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While enmity toward Putin and a desire to send assistance to the region is virtually universal in the US Congress, lawmakers have had a hard time finding unity on other steps.

The House approved a massive spending bill Wednesday night that would rush $13.6 billion in US aid to battered Ukraine and its European allies, after top Democrats were forced to abruptly drop their plan to include fresh funds to battle Covid-19.

Passage of the Ukraine aid and the $1.5 trillion government-wide legislation that carried it let both parties lay claim to election-year victories for their priorities.

Democrats won treasured domestic initiatives, Republicans achieved defense boosts, and both got their imprint on funds to counter Russia's brutal invasion of its western neighbour. Senate approval was assured by week's end or perhaps slightly longer.

‘Heartbreaking’

Hours earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had to abandon the bill's $15.6 billion for combating the pandemic, a decision she called “heartbreaking" and that spelled defeat for a top priority of President Joe Biden and party leaders.

The money was mostly to bolster US supplies of vaccines, treatments and tests and battle the disease around the world, but a Democratic revolt over Republican-demanded state aid cuts to cover the new initiatives' costs forced her to scrap that spending.

“We've got a war going on in Ukraine,” Pelosi told reporters, explaining the urgency Democrats felt in making concessions in bargaining with Republicans. “We have important work that we're doing here." She said with her party in the 50-50 Senate needing at least 10 GOP votes to pass legislation, Democrats “are going to have to know there has to be compromise."

The House approved the overall bill in two separate votes. The measure's security programs were overwhelmingly approved by 361-69, the rest by 260-171, with most Republicans opposed.

Aid expenses

The Ukraine aid included $6.5 billion for the U.S. costs of sending troops and weapons to Eastern Europe and equipping allied forces there in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and repeated, bellicose threats. There was another $6.8 billion to care for refugees and provide economic aid to allies, and more to help federal agencies enforce economic sanctions against Russia and protect against cyber threats at home.

Biden had requested $10 billion for the package.

Pelosi said she talked to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for 45 minutes Wednesday. She said they discussed the weapons and other assistance his country needs and “the crimes against humanity that Putin is committing,” including a Russian airstrike that destroyed a maternity hospital. “This is the beast that Putin is,” Pelosi said.

While enmity toward Putin and a desire to send assistance to the region is virtually universal in Congress, lawmakers have had a hard time finding unity on other steps. In one area of agreement, the House also planned a vote on a bill banning Russian oil imports — Biden imposed such a ban this week — and levying other sanctions, underscoring lawmakers' eagerness to demonstrate they're taking action.

Published on March 10, 2022
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