Biden asks Congress for $33 billion in Ukraine aid
Funding includes military assistance, but also money to alleviate food shortages and to keep the Ukrainian government afloat
President Joe Biden has asked Congress for another $33 billion in assistance for Ukraine, including more than $20 billion in military aid.
“We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom,” Biden said during remarks Thursday from the White House. “The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen.”
Congress previously appropriated $13.6 billion for Ukraine on March 15.
Almost half of the new funding, $16.4 billion, would flow to the Defense Department, much of it for additional weapons. This includes $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides weapons and equipment directly to Ukraine.
Another $5.4 billion would pay to replenish Defense Department stocks that the White House has already sent to Ukraine, including more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, over 5,500 Javelin anti-armor missiles, 700 Switchblade drones, 90 155mm Howitzers, 200 M113 armored personnel carriers and more than 50 million rounds of ammunition.
The aid package also asks Congress to increase Biden’s presidential drawdown authority, which allows the president to directly send U.S. stocks to Ukraine, by an additional $5 billion. The Biden administration has largely used up the $3 billion in drawdown authority previously authorized by Congress.
The Biden administration has already sent $3.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, according to the latest Pentagon information.
The request also would provide $2.6 billion to pay for the deployment of additional U.S. troops to the region and $1.9 billion for cybersecurity and intelligence support, including weapons systems upgrades and unspecified classified programs.
“We are providing Ukraine significant, timely intelligence to help them defend themselves against the Russian onslaught,” Biden said.
Much of the remainder, $14.1 billion, would go to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development for economic aid to Ukraine and neighboring allies, including Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic countries. The largest chunk, $7.5 billion, would provide direct support for the government of Ukraine so that critical government functions can continue.
Another $4 billion would go toward foreign military financing to assist Ukraine in paying for the weapons it wants to buy itself. Biden also proposes $1.6 billion in humanitarian aid and food assistance for people around the world facing food shortages without Ukrainian exports. Ukraine is a major producer of wheat and corn.
To help ease the economic disruption in the U.S. caused by the conflict in Ukraine, the White House proposes using $500 million to increase domestic food production. This will help alleviate rising food prices in the United States, Biden said.
The proposal includes $1.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide assistance to Ukrainians entering the U.S. through the Uniting for Ukraine program.
‘No delays, no excuses’
In his letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden suggests that Congress fold $22.5 billion in previously requested COVID-19 funding into the legislative package. “To avoid needless deaths in the United States and around the world, I urge the Congress to include this much needed, life-saving COVID funding as part of this supplemental funding request,” he wrote.
The White House’s pandemic aid request has been whittled down in talks on Capitol Hill to just $10 billion, and even that slimmer amount has been held up amid a dispute over Biden’s move to end the Trump-era “Title 42” immigration policy barring entry to migrants on public health grounds.
Senate Democrats are considering combining the new Ukraine aid with the stalled COVID-19 package to try to increase pressure on Republicans to relent. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations panel, said Thursday that lawmakers “absolutely” should merge the two funding proposals.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Thursday that she expects a vote next week on a combined package.
So far, the GOP hasn’t budged, arguing that Ukraine aid should move separately to avoid getting bogged down in the pandemic funding fight. “We can’t play politics with this. We need to get it done,” Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman, a co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, said Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer didn’t explicitly endorse the combination strategy in floor remarks Thursday, but he called on Republicans to drop their objections.
“Republicans should work with Democrats to pass another COVID funding bill ASAP. No political games, no poison pills, no dithering about,” Schumer said. “In short, we must get both Ukrainian emergency relief and COVID funding relief done quickly.”
In his remarks Thursday, Biden said the most important thing was approving the aid in a timely way. “I don’t care how they do it,” he said. “They can do it separately or together, but we need them both.”
Biden urged bipartisan cooperation in passing funding for both Ukraine and COVID-19.
“Let’s get both of these critical tasks done, no delays, no excuses,” he said. “Just action. Now. Now.”
Biden also noted that he will be traveling to Alabama next week to visit the Lockheed Martin factory where Javelin missiles are manufactured.
On Wednesday, Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, two NATO allies, in response to Western sanctions designed to weaken Russia’s economy. The U.S. has already stopped purchasing gas and oil from Russia.
“We will not let Russia intimidate or blackmail their way out of these sanctions,” Biden said. “We will not allow them to use their oil and gas to avoid consequences for their aggression.”
The U.S. is working with Korea, Japan and Qatar to help relieve the energy crunch felt by countries that rely on Russian exports, he said.
Aidan Quigley, David Lerman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.