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Biden signs stopgap spending bill with $12.3 billion in aid to Ukraine

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) waves as he walks out of Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The Senate passed the spending bill after Manchin agreed to leave out an energy infrastructure permitting measure.  (HAIYUN JIANG)
By Emily Cochrane New York Times

WASHINGTON – Congress gave final approval Friday to a short-term spending package to keep the government open through mid-December and President Joe Biden signed it soon afterward, staving off a midnight shutdown and sending about $12.3 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine.

The House passed the measure less than 12 hours before funding was set to lapse.

It will keep the government open through Dec. 16, giving lawmakers time to iron out their considerable differences over the dozen annual spending bills.

The package included a third tranche of aid to Ukraine for its battle with Russia, on top of a total of about $54 billion approved earlier this year. With Friday’s vote, Congress has now committed more military aid to Ukraine than it has to any country in a single year since the Vietnam War, reflecting a remarkable bipartisan consensus in favor of pouring huge amounts of U.S. resources into the fight as the nation seeks to reclaim more of its territory from Russia.

Still, most House Republicans opposed the measure, which passed on a largely party-line vote of 230-201. Ten Republicans joined every present Democrat in voting for the legislation.

Passage of the bill met the last legislative deadline facing Congress before the November midterm elections. Lawmakers, eager to return the campaign trail, vowed to address outstanding disputes in the annual legislation as part of an increasingly packed to-do list for when the House and Senate return in November.

“The investments included in this bill are urgent and necessary to avoid disruptions to vital federal agencies, to help communities get back on their feet, to ensure we have the time needed to negotiate a final funding agreement that meets the needs of hardworking people,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chair of the Appropriations Committee.

Republican leaders, however, counseled their conference to oppose the package. Although several Senate Republicans supported the package when it passed that chamber Thursday, House Republicans argued that it did little to address their priorities, including providing a substantial increase for the military and shoring up resources at the southern border.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the top GOP member on the Appropriations Committee, chastised Democrats for a bill she said was being “rushed through the House today, with just hours to spare to avoid a government shutdown.”

“It’s deeply unfortunate that we have once again waited to the last minute to fund the government,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. Cole, a longtime member of the appropriations panel, added, “We should not be in this situation – both sides have done this; I’ll grant my friend that – but this is a particularly egregious process.”

But the desire to avoid a government shutdown and to help Ukraine was enough to rally the support needed to pass the measure. It will allocate $1.5 billion to replenish weapons and equipment previously sent to the country, while allowing Biden to authorize the transfer of up to $3.7 billion of U.S. equipment and weapons.

It will also provide $3 billion for equipment, weapons and military support, as well as $4.5 billion for the Ukrainian government to continue operating throughout the war.

“This package comes at a critical moment,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pointing to Ukraine’s recent success in reclaiming land that had been seized by Russia and commitments of support she and the Biden administration had made. “With this supplemental, we take another strong step toward honoring that pledge, our country’s pledge.”

Lawmakers agreed to address some domestic needs, including $20 million to support recovery from the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and $2 billion for a community block grant program designed to help relief efforts after natural disasters in 2021 and 2022.

It also ensures the renewal of a five-year “user fee” agreement that the Food and Drug Administration relies on as part of its budget and sets aside $1 billion for a program that will help lower-income families with heating and energy costs in the coming months.

The legislation also allows the federal government more flexibility to spend existing disaster relief funds in the coming weeks, even as lawmakers acknowledged that it was likely that a separate round of emergency aid would be needed in the coming weeks to address the devastation left by hurricanes in southwest Florida and Puerto Rico.

“This short-term funding bill will keep the government open and meet a range of critical needs – from helping communities recover from extreme weather events, to supporting Ukraine, to helping fulfill our promises and commitments to Afghan allies and partners, and more,” said Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. She added, “We’re looking forward to working with Congress to get this done for the American people.”

To ensure there would be enough Republican support for the measure to pass the Senate, however, Democrats agreed to remove billions of dollars in emergency funds to help address the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of monkeypox across the country. Republicans have refused to consider devoting additional emergency money on top of aid previously approved by Congress that has yet to be used.

Democrats also dropped an energy infrastructure plan that had initially been included at the request of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a conservative Democrat, as part of an agreement that won his vote last month for the party’s major climate, health and tax package. Dozens of House Democrats had called for the energy plan to be stripped out and considered separately, and senior lawmakers said they would reconsider it once Congress returned in mid-November.