Neither Republicans nor Democrats are celebrating the stop gap spending bill that passed the House of Representatives and Senate just in time for US President Joseph Biden to sign. What the major parties have done is to make room for one more round of shouting matches for a full 45 days before another deadline stares in their faces on November 17.
But some 5,000 miles away in Kyiv, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky must be worried , not just because the stop gap measure left out aid for Ukraine but because this may not get through as a separate spending measure much as Biden hopes for. Tight fisted Republicans say that in spite of all that gloom and doom scenarios painted by the White House, the Pentagon has enough in its pockets to get Zelensky and Co. going till at least December. And then there are law makers who believe that there are “other ways”.
The Group of 21 within the Grand Old Party who are making things difficult for their leader Kevin McCarthy have only now started showing they mean business when it comes to Ukraine; and their slogan is quite simple: “No blank cheques”.
Massive US assistance
Since the war started in February 2022, the US has given Kyiv close to $115 billion in military and humanitarian assistance, much of it in the former. And in August Biden promised another $24 billion.
And with the war showing little signs of tilting in favor of Zelensky, law makers are unwilling to write additional cheques, especially as they are fighting over a $33 trillion national debt and on ways to curb domestic spending.
It is quite clear that the White House and the small group of GOP law makers have different ideas. Biden expects Speaker McCarthy to deliver the funding for Ukraine in a separate measure over the next several days. Prior to the final vote that passed in an overwhelming fashion in both Chambers, the Senate package had $6 billion for Ukraine, or about one-third of what Biden wanted to start with. Even this amount was taken out in the final version in the House that voted first, with the Senate following suit not wanting to force a shutdown.
It is a no-win situation for both President Biden and Speaker McCarthy for the numbers are for all to see: the stop gap spending measure passed the House 335 to 91; and 88 to 9 in the Senate. To insist on Ukraine funding, the Democrats would have had to take on a bitter choice of between “America” or “Ukraine”; and for Speaker McCarthy, to force vote on the strength of Democrats would have created problems within the hardline faction over his continuance as Speaker, a situation he now says is of no consequence to him.
The writing on the wall is obvious, especially for the White House. For several weeks now Kyiv has been maintaining that it is slowly getting the upper hand in the war; but there have been doubts on this assessment from the western alliance. And when funding for Ukraine comes up, law makers have a difficult time explaining to their constituencies for difficult domestic program cuts.
Not to forget former President Donald Trump’s appeal to Congress that additional funding to Ukraine should be put on hold until the FBI, the IRS and the Justice Department “hand over every scrap of evidence” on the business dealings of the Biden family.
The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations