Aid to Ukraine hits nearly $14 billion on $1.5 billion government bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. aid package for Ukraine and its Eastern European allies hit about $14 billion on Tuesday as lawmakers put the finishing touches on a spending bill $1.5 trillion government-wide bill that leaders hope Congress will pass by the end of the week.

Democrats and Republicans have rallied strongly in support of Ukraine, with Russia’s attack devastating parts of the country and sparking Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Negotiators say the region’s military, humanitarian and economic aid package has increased to nearly $14 billion, up from $12 billion last Monday and President Joe Biden’s request for $10 billion last week. .

“We are going to support them against tyranny, oppression, violent acts of subjugation,” Biden said at the White House.

The bipartisan rallying behind the Ukraine aid package was just one manifestation of Congress’s eagerness to help that country, but all has not been smooth.

Republicans have accused Biden of moving too slowly to help Ukraine and the NATO countries that help it, and of imposing sanctions on Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin. Democrats say it took time to bring in European allies who rely heavily on Russian energy sources. And a bipartisan push to ban Russian oil imports had become perhaps unstoppable before Biden announced on Tuesday that he would do it himself.

As of dinnertime Tuesday, lawmakers had yet to release the comprehensive bill, which would fund federal agencies this year and include aid to Ukraine. But details of the sweeping bill were beginning to emerge and its passage, likely in the next few days, was beyond doubt.

“The war in Europe has focused the energies of Congress to do something and do it quickly,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.

Lawmakers also had other motivations for approving the $1.5 trillion bill. Failure to do so by Saturday would result in the closure of federal agencies during the election year, a damaging blow lawmakers were eager to avoid. And the legislation contained victories for both sides.

Democrats won about $15 billion for a new round of spending on vaccines, tests and treatments for COVID-19, including $5 billion to fight the pandemic around the world. That was below Biden’s $22.5 billion request.

Republicans said they forced Democrats to pay the full amount by withdrawing unspent money from previous legislation. The money would come from previously approved spending to fight COVID and to help states with the costs of the pandemic, said a person who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss publicly of the legislation.

Schumer said there will be money for Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” to find a cure for the disease and to increase Pell grants for low-income students. The question of whether to include programs protecting women from domestic violence and strengthening the country’s cybersecurity remained unresolved, Schumer said.

The overall measure was on track to increase overall defense and domestic spending from last year’s levels, although exact figures are not yet available. Senate GOP Leader No. 2 John Thune of South Dakota said Republicans were pleased with the boost given to the military.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the measure would provide loan guarantees to Poland to help replace planes it sends to Ukraine. “It was like pulling teeth” to get Democrats to agree to some of the defense spending, he said. But he added: “This is an important step. You have to pass it. You have to move quickly. »

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a sponsor of a bipartisan effort to raise billions to help the pandemic-stricken restaurant industry, said the initiative did not survive due to the opposition from the GOP.

House leaders hoped the chamber could approve the bill on Wednesday, sending it to the Senate. The debate could go on for days.

Top House Democrats were warning their members that they might have to unexpectedly return to Washington Friday night after the party’s political retreat in Philadelphia to endorse the package or pass another short-term bill preventing a federal shutdown. The temporary funding for federal agencies expires Friday at the end of the day.

The timing of the final switch, although likely within days, was unclear. Last week, eight conservative Republican senators wrote to Schumer saying lawmakers “shouldn’t vote on it” until they had time to read the bill and for a full study of its costs by the Nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“There are senators who won’t agree on anything, anytime, anywhere,” said House Democratic No. 2 Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., “which is frustrating”.

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AP reporter Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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