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House resists pressure to pass Ukraine aid

Lawmakers debate whether funding the war is an expense or an investment

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at a press briefing on Thursday Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

House resists pressure to pass Ukraine aid

At a White House briefing on Thursday, National Security communications adviser John Kirby warned that Ukraine is losing control of a strategic city on the border of Russian-controlled territory. As of Thursday, Ukrainian soldiers began to withdraw units from Avdiivka and reassemble on its outskirts. Commanders on the ground have said they are overwhelmed by unending Russian reinforcements. They stopped receiving U.S. military assistance weeks ago.

“Avdiivka is at risk of falling into Russian control, in large part because Ukrainian forces on the ground are running out of artillery ammunition,” Kirby said. “Because Congress has yet to pass the supplemental bill, we have not been able to provide Ukraine with the artillery shells that they desperately need to disrupt these Russian assaults.”

After pulling an all-nighter on Monday, the Senate finally passed a $95.3 billion foreign aid package, $60 billion of which is earmarked for Ukraine. But Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., says the House will not rush consideration of the foreign aid bill. Some House Republicans and many of their constituents are questioning the wisdom of sending unlimited funding for an overseas war, despite arguments from supporters that most of the funding benefits the U.S. economy.

Congress has passed four supplemental aid packages for Ukraine totaling $113.3 billion since February 2022. According to tracking by the Kiel Institute, that amount represents more military and bilateral aid than any other country has contributed for Ukraine. But the size of the U.S. commitment has shrunk by roughly 90 percent as of July. Aid to Ukraine accounts for 1 percent of the federal budget and roughly 4 percent of the military budget over the past two years.

Every aid package divides funding into four main categories: humanitarian support, which is typically disbursed among nongovernmental organizations; funding for U.S. agencies such as the departments of Defense and State; weapons and services to Ukraine’s military; and economic support for the Ukrainian government.

The Senate’s most recent bill dedicates $60 billion to Ukraine, but the majority of that money would remain in the United States. Roughly $48 billion would go to the Pentagon, and $20 billion would go to U.S. companies to refill American military inventories. The next-largest portion would go to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a program that allows the Pentagon to purchase weapons for the Ukrainian military from American companies. This has been an important point for the Biden administration: In October, the president said in an Oval Office address that Ukraine in its war against Russia does not harm American interests because the weapons and materials come with a “made in America” guarantee.

As a result, the majority of overall aid to Ukraine goes to the Pentagon, to contractors, and to manufacturing plants in states such as Arizona, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania. According to data from the American Enterprise Institute, roughly 61 percent of funds for Ukraine has been spent in the United States. In an attempt to bolster dwindling public support, the White House has highlighted factories in Ohio that construct Abrams tanks and Stryker combat vehicles.

Mark Cancian with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that the phrase “aid to Ukraine” is a misnomer. Only funds earmarked for economic support to the Ukrainian government physically go to the country. Cancian, a retired colonel, specializes in defense budget strategy and military operations.

“When we spend money on humanitarian assistance, including in the United States, that’s a result of war,” Cancian told me. “It doesn’t go to Ukraine but is caused by it. And when we spend money to enforce sanctions, that doesn’t go to Ukraine, but it is a result of a war.”

Conservative lawmakers say that argument does not address their deeper concerns about government overspending. On Monday night, Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, took a break from late night votes to join an X Spaces conversation with Elon Musk, Sen. Mike Lee, and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

“It does not meaningfully address the problems that we have within our own defense industrial base,” Vance said, referring to the latest aid package. “It does not force the articulation of a strategy for how to end the conflict. So you basically have a blank check or a near-blank check for a strategy that’s completely gone off the rails.”

Lee expressed concern that the government does not have enough money to help Ukraine and secure the U.S. southern border. Last week, Republicans shut down a bipartisan bill on border security because they said it would not go far enough to fix the problem of increasing illegal crossings. As a result, the border portion of the bill was removed, leaving them only with the foreign aid package.

“Voting yes and passing this bill now, it empowers drug cartels,” argued Lee, who wants a stronger border security bill before voting on foreign aid.

Cancian said saving money by withholding aid to Ukraine would not significantly improve the U.S. economy. And it could spark further wars that threaten worldwide security.

“What we get for [our investment] is defense of democracy and the rule of law,” Cancian said. “And we are weakening one of our main adversaries, the Russians, without endangering any of our troops. By comparison with Iraq and Afghanistan, this is much less expensive, because we don’t have any troops engaged on the ground. So this is war on the cheap.”

The overall defense budget for fiscal year 2024, which was passed in December, is $841.4 billion. In January, the national debt hit a record $34 trillion. Republicans say Democrats for costly federal spending programs under the Biden administration as well as continued COVID-19 relief funds have only added to the debt. And Democrats blame Republican tax cuts in 2017 for adding to the federal deficit.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., argued from the Senate floor on Monday night that the foreign aid bill does not take anything away from Americans.

“Last time I checked,about half of it is going to the military industrial base here to replace the inventories that we’ve sent to them, to replace and to aid our modernization of our arsenal,” he said. “Putin is losing this war, folks. This is not a stalemate. This guy is on life support. He will not survive if the 50 nations who have come together to support Ukraine stick together.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., rejects both premises.

“One of the depraved justifications for all this spending is that it’s really not going over to Ukraine. It’s helping build our industrial base and creating jobs in your state,” Johnson said on the X Spaces call. “We waste so much money in our military industrial complex, and our colleagues really don’t want to dig into it. We all have to understand that Vladimir Putin will not lose this war. So sending $60 billion as added fuel to the flames of a bloody stalemate makes no sense.”

Tillis said withdrawing aid would embolden not only Russia but also China. He urged Republicans to improve their communications about the war, adding that he doubts as many voters would oppose funding Ukraine if they could see the classified military briefings senators receive.

Former President Donald Trump has also made Ukraine’s aid requests a central theme of his reelection campaign. While he has not said he would withdraw all support from Ukraine, Trump has said at rallies and on Truth Social that the United States should only provide aid as a loan. At a campaign rally in South Carolina last week, he said that he would not help NATO countries that fall short of recommended defense spending. At another rally on Wednesday, Trump also said that he thinks Biden is not doing enough for Ukraine and “is going to give” the country to Putin.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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