US lawmakers to vote on spending plan with $13.6bn in Ukraine aid

The House of Representatives is also expected to vote on a ban on Russian oil imports.

Ukrainian servicemen help evacuate an elderly woman, in the town of Irpin, Ukraine on March 6.
Ukrainian servicemen help an elderly woman escape Russian bombardment in the town of Irpin, Ukraine on March 6 [Andriy Dubchak/AP Photo]

United States lawmakers in the House of Representatives are prepared to vote on Wednesday on a $13.6bn aid package for war-torn Ukraine as part of a giant blueprint to fund federal agencies and avoid a damaging government shutdown at home.

Following weeks of frantic negotiations, and with a looming deadline of temporary funding running out at the weekend, the House is expected to pass $1.5 trillion in spending for the US government’s fiscal year ending September 30.

“This bipartisan agreement will help us address many of the major challenges we face at home and abroad: from COVID-19, to the vicious and immoral attack on Ukraine, to the need to lower costs for hardworking American families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

The massive text – which was finalised in the small hours of Wednesday morning – is 2,741 pages long, meaning lawmakers are unlikely to have read it before they vote.

With government funding running out at midnight on Friday (05:00 GMT on Saturday), lawmakers are also expected to pass a four-day “continuing resolution” to keep federal agencies running until March 15.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer looks over his notes before taking questions from reporters and speaking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Capitol in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer looks over his notes before taking questions from reporters and speaking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the US Capitol on March 8 [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

This gives the Senate some breathing room beyond Friday’s deadline to go through procedural hurdles before sending the package to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. Biden has vowed “support and assistance” for Ukraine.

The rigid timetable has been forced on lawmakers because Democrats depart on Wednesday for a three-day political strategy retreat in Philadelphia. Included in the deal is $13.6bn in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and its Eastern European allies in response to Russia’s invasion, which is entering its third week.

‘Dangerous time’

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

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

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

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to face reporters questions following the Senate Republicans weekly policy lunch at the US Capitol on March 8
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell strongly supported the $13.6bn in humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine, giving the measure bipartisan support [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

The US government funding package includes $730bn in non-defence spending, a 6.7 percent increase over 2021 and the largest hike in four years.

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

Included in the text is about $16bn in coronavirus pandemic cash – less than the $22.5bn the White House wanted but still a substantial figure that the Democrats will consider a win.

Lawmakers on the left of the party had signalled they would be unhappy about defence spending hikes, but they back the increases in domestic spending and are expected to vote for the bill.

Republicans, in contrast, will be content that the bill realises their goal of approximate parity between increases in defence and non-defence spending.

In addition, lawmakers are expected to vote on Wednesday on a Russia 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.

Source: AFP