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Saturday, June 15, 2024

US lawmakers sign off $14 bn in aid for Ukraine

"The brave, freedom-loving people of Ukraine and our allies in the region will receive urgently needed investments to fight Vladimir Putin and the Russians' illegal and immoral invasion," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

US lawmakers signed off on almost $14 billion in aid for war-torn Ukraine on Wednesday as part of a giant blueprint to fund federal agencies and avoid a damaging government shutdown at home.

The House of Representatives green-lit around $1.5 trillion in spending through September, less than 48 hours before the Friday-Saturday midnight deadline, when government funding was due to dry up.

The 2,700-plus page package will need to be rubber-stamped by the Senate before the budget can pass into law.

“The brave, freedom-loving people of Ukraine and our allies in the region will receive urgently needed investments to fight Vladimir Putin and the Russians’ illegal and immoral invasion,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

Lawmakers in the lower chamber also passed a four-day “continuing resolution” to keep federal agencies running until next Tuesday.

This gives the Senate some breathing room in case the procedural hurdles required to get the full package to President Joe Biden’s desk cannot be completed by Friday night.

The rigid timetable was forced on lawmakers because Democrats were due to spend the rest of the working week at a retreat in Philadelphia.

Read more: Pentagon rejects Poland’s offer to transfer MiG-29 jets for Ukraine

Included in the deal is $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and its Eastern European allies in response to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s invasion, which is entering its third week.

Dangerous time

The funding, which has huge cross-party support, was one of the keys to passing the omnibus package, which has proved controversial in other areas.

“This bipartisan government funding agreement is the major step forward that our national security needs,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

“This is a dangerous time for the United States and our partners.”

It provides $782 billion in defense funding — far more than Biden’s initial $715 billion request and an increase of 5.6 percent over last year.

Read more: Russia invaded Ukraine: Understanding the Politico-economic fallouts

The package includes $730 billion in non-defense cash, a 6.7 percent increase over 2021 and the largest hike in four years.

Lawmakers on the left of the Democratic Party had signaled they would be unhappy about defense spending hikes, but they back the increases in domestic spending and allowed the package to advance to the Senate.

There was a backlash from progressives however over a provision to provide $15.6 billion to fund the Biden administration’s Covid-19 strategy, forcing it to be stripped out of the omnibus package.

Republicans are refusing to back any new cash for the federal pandemic response, and Democrats had agreed to take the money from existing programs, including $7 billion allocated to state governments in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

But rank-and-file Democrats objected to the proposal, meaning leadership had to schedule a separate vote on Covid funding, likely to come next week.

Read more: Russia snubs UN court hearing in case brought by Ukraine

Lawmakers were also expected to vote Wednesday on a new sanctions bill that includes a ban on importing oil and other petroleum products from Russia.

Biden has already instituted the oil ban by executive order, but Democratic leaders in Congress want their members to be on the record supporting the measure.

The Senate is unlikely to follow suit in any case.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk