Washington (AFP) – The Senate has pushed a $40 billion package in military, economic and food aid to Ukraine and US allies to final congressional approval on Thursday, putting a bipartisan stamp on America’s biggest commitment yet to transforming Russia’s invasion In the painful quagmire of Moscow.
The legislation, passed from 86 to 11, was supported by every voting Democrat and most Republicans. While many issues have collapsed under President Joe Biden due to a partisan stalemate, Thursday’s lopsided vote suggested that both parties were largely united on sending the materiel it needs to Ukraine to fend off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s many forces.
“I salute Congress for sending a clear, bipartisan message to the world that the people of the United States stand shoulder to shoulder with the brave people of Ukraine in defending their democracy and freedom,” Biden said in a written statement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the United States. “This is a demonstration of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defense of freedom,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.
With control of Congress at stake in the election less than six months later, all “No” votes came from Republicans. The same happened in last week’s House vote of 368 to 57, prompting warnings by Democrats in campaign season that the nationalist wing of the Republican Party was in the grip of former President Donald Trump and his isolationist preferences, America First.
Trump, who still wields significant influence in the party, has accused Biden of dumping money on Ukraine while mothers lack baby formula, a crisis triggered by a supply chain problem over which the government has had little influence.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York State called it “disturbing” that Republicans are opposed to helping Ukraine. “It seems more and more that MAGA Republicans are following the same rules of the game that Putin used,” Schumer said, using the “Make America Great Again” acronym that Democrats use to portray Republicans as extremists.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a staunch supporter of the measure, warned fellow Republicans that a Russian victory would move hostile forces closer to the borders of important European trading partners. This, he said, would increase US defense spending and tempt China and other countries with regional ambitions to test US resolve.
“The most precious and painful thing America can do in the long run is to stop investing in sovereignty, stability, and deterrence before it is too late,” McConnell said.
The passage came as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States had withdrawn $100 million in Pentagon weapons and equipment for shipment to Kyiv, bringing the total U.S. materiel sent to Kyiv since the invasion began to $3.9 billion. He and other administration officials had warned that power would be exhausted by Thursday, but the new legislation would replenish the available amount by more than $8 billion.
In all, about $24 billion in the measure was allocated to arming and equipping Ukrainian forces, helping them finance arms purchases, replace American equipment sent to theaters of operations, and pay for American forces deployed in neighboring countries.
There is also $9 billion to keep the government of Ukraine afloat and $5 billion to feed countries around the world Rely on dwindling crop yields now in Ukraine. And there is money to help Ukrainian refugees in the US, seize the assets of the Russian oligarch, reopen the US embassy in Kyiv and prosecute Russian war crimes.
The measure, which officials said is designed to last through September, tripled the $13.6 billion in Ukrainian aid. which lawmakers approved shortly after the invasion in February.
The combined price of $54 billion exceeds what the United States has spent annually on all of its military and economic foreign aid in recent years, and approaches Russia’s annual military budget.
“Help is on the way, really big help. Aid that can guarantee a victory for the Ukrainians,” Schumer said, expressing a goal that seemed almost out of the question when Russia first launched its brutal offensive.
If the war continues, as seems reasonable, the US may eventually have to decide whether to spend more even with inflation, massive federal deficits and a potential recession looming. Under these circumstances, winning bipartisan approval for any future aid bill may become tougher, especially as November approaches this year, and cooperation between the two parties worsens.
Several GOP presidential candidates for 2024 voted for the measure, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Another – Josh Hawley of Missouri – voted “No.” The measure was endorsed by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who are facing perhaps the toughest re-election races this fall among Republican senators.
Three Democratic senators missed the vote. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is recovering from what he described as a minor stroke. Sherrod Brown of the Ohio office said he woke up “not well,” had preventive tests at George Washington University Hospital, had been resting at home and planned to return to the Capitol next week. Jackie Rosen of the Nevada office said she was attending her daughter’s law school graduation.
Biden had proposed a $33 billion plan which lawmakers have boosted with additional defense and humanitarian spending. He had to drop his demand that an additional $22.5 billion be included to feed the government’s ongoing fight against the pandemic, spending that many Republicans opposed and embroiled in a politically complex battle over immigration.
None of the Republicans opposed to the legislation spoke during Thursday’s debate. After passing through, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky, among 11 conservatives who voted “no,” questioned whether voters would support the bill if Congress required them to pay for it.
“I wonder if Americans across our country would agree to if they were shown the costs, if they were asked to pay them,” Paul said. “We simply borrow it.” Put it on my tab “is what Congress says.”
Paul, who often opposes US intervention and derails bills on the verge of approval, used Senate measures to overturn Schumer and McConnell’s plans to agree to help Ukraine last week.
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