Ukraine aid growing as lawmakers shape big budget bill

Mar 7, 2022, 5:13 PM | Updated: 5:46 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Proposed U.S. aid for Ukraine and its European allies has grown beyond $12 billion, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday, as congressional bargainers worked toward a bipartisan government-wide spending deal that would also contain fresh sums for battling COVID-19.

The remarks by Schumer, D-N.Y., underscored the momentum in Congress for helping outgunned Ukraine fend off Russian invaders and assisting that country and others cope with refugees and other economic and humanitarian problems caused by the brutal attack.

“The clearest signal Congress can send to Vladimir Putin this week is passing a bipartisan aid package,” said Schumer, referring to the Russian president, “leaving no doubt that the democratic nations of the world stand with Ukraine and against Putin’s deeply immoral and bloody war.”

Schumer said the assistance would pay for refugees, medical and food supplies, weapons transfers to Ukraine and aid for nearby NATO allies.

The apparent growth of the Ukraine aid also illustrated eleventh-hour negotiations underway among lawmakers as they try completing the long overdue $1.5 trillion government spending measure by Friday. The legislation would increase spending for defense and domestic programs, though lawmakers haven’t said yet by how much.

Agencies have run on temporary authority since Oct. 1, when the government’s fiscal year began. That lapses this weekend, and an election-year federal shutdown would occur without more money.

Asked about the new $12 billion figure for Ukraine, No. 2 Senate Republican leader Sen. John Thune said he was aware of numbers “in that range.” Aides from both parties said the assistance was growing. Support for Ukraine has deep bipartisan support in Congress, and only last week President Joe Biden asked lawmakers for $10 billion to help the beleaguered country.

“There’s a real sense of urgency” about the Ukraine aid, Thune, R-S.D., told reporters. He said the strong backing for that assistance would benefit the overall $1.5 trillion legislation because it would “help keep this thing moving.”

Biden also proposed another $22.5 billion to continue bolstering government efforts against the pandemic. Republicans have objected that such additional spending should come from unspent funds from previous COVID-19 relief bills Congress has enacted, which totaled over $5 trillion.

Thune said negotiators seemed ready to pay for pandemic expenditures with unspent COVID-19 money, and aides said talks were moving that way. They also said the $22.5 billion figure could fall, though that remained unclear.

If that happens, “in the end there ought to be a pretty big vote” for the overall bill, Thune said. “But we’ll see.”

Leaders want the House to vote on the legislation by Wednesday, when House Democrats plan to leave town for the rest of the week for a political retreat. That would give the Senate a couple of days to complete the measure before confronting a federal shutdown, which experience has shown angers voters and which both parties hope to avoid.

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Ukraine aid growing as lawmakers shape big budget bill