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US House approves $ 300 mn in support for Ukraine after carve-out from defense budget

A controversial GOP defense spending bill finally passed the House after aid to Ukraine was carved out, but is unlikely to pass the Senate
The US House of Representatives. Photo: history.com
US House approves $ 300 mn in support for Ukraine after carve-out from defense budget

The US House of Representatives voted late Thursday night to provide $300 million in support for Ukraine, Politico reported.

These funds were removed from the draft US defense budget and were voted on separately.

As well, the House approved a $826 billion defense spending bill late Thursday after the $300 million in aid for Ukraine was removed.

The defense appropriations bill cleared the chamber in a near party-line 218-210 vote. The Ukraine aid passed 311-117 in a separate bipartisan vote earlier Thursday, 

Almost all Democrats opposed the defense bill to a range of conservative policy provisions while almost all Republicans supported it. However, the removal of Ukraine aid from the legislation has sparked significant debate and concerns about the impending government shutdown this weekend.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced challenges in advancing the bill, failing twice the previous week. However, he managed to secure enough Republican votes to pass the bill after the House removed $300 million designated for arming Ukraine from the text. This move led to a separate bill to allocate those funds for Ukraine, which passed in a bipartisan vote of 311-117. Earlier in the day, Republicans had won a close procedural vote to separate the Ukraine funding from the Pentagon bill, an effort to sway a few GOP holdouts.

This shift in strategy marked a significant reversal, as most Republicans had previously helped defeat an identical proposal just one day earlier, which aimed to remove Ukraine funding from the Pentagon bill.

While these maneuvers ultimately facilitated the passage of both bills, Democrats expressed concerns that the Kremlin could interpret this as Congress abandoning its commitment to Ukraine. House Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith noted, “The Russians are good at propaganda. It will be played as America backing off of its commitment for Ukraine.”

Ukraine aid has become a contentious issue within the GOP, with many lawmakers on the right opposing it. Republicans, however, downplayed the decision to create separate legislation for Ukraine. House Rules Chair Tom Cole argued that it allowed opponents of either measure to express their views independently.

Apart from the exclusion of Ukraine aid, Democrats had additional objections to the defense legislation, particularly related to culture war provisions introduced by Republicans to appeal to conservatives. These provisions include blocking funding for the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, imposing limits on medical care for transgender troops, reducing diversity programs, and resisting efforts to combat climate change.

Republicans further stirred controversy by proposing amendments to reduce the salaries of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other Pentagon leaders to just $1.

However, despite the House’s passage of the bill, it faces insurmountable odds in the Democratic-led Senate. President Joe Biden has also threatened to veto it if it reaches his desk.

The defense bill also faces opposition due to its treatment of the Pentagon’s request to buy missiles over multiple years, as House appropriators questioned the rationale behind the plan. Additionally, it cuts $1.1 billion from Biden’s request for the civilian defense workforce, a move criticized by Democrats who argue it would shift work to contractors. The bill includes a significant increase in junior enlisted military personnel pay, a measure opposed by the Biden administration due to its cost concerns.

In the end, the House GOP’s efforts to pass the defense bill won’t prevent the looming government shutdown this weekend, with no deal in sight as the clock ticks down. Representative Jim McGovern, the top Rules Committee Democrat, did not mince words, stating, “Calling Republican leadership a clown show is doing a disservice to actual working clowns.”

This September, the Pentagon has set up a new team in Ukraine to monitor American security assistance to Kyiv as a growing number of Republican lawmakers call for tighter oversight of the use of that funding. The Department of Defense has stated yesterday that weapons sent to Ukraine are not falling into the wrong hands.

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