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Spending fight in U.S. Congress imperils future of Ukraine military aid – National

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A heated spending battle among Republicans in the U.S. Congress might lead to a government shutdown — and imperil U.S. military aid to Ukraine at a time when it’s desperately needed.

U.S. President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve an additional US$40 billion in government spending, which includes US$21 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. The White House is urging lawmakers to pass the Ukraine funding as part of a larger spending bill that’s currently being negotiated.

But far-right Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives are calling for big cuts to government spending that could delay passing a budget bill, or even a short-term funding resolution, before the end of the month. Failing to do either would force the government to shut down, leaving federal programs and workers unpaid.

To help ease the spending bill’s passage, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is reportedly considering separating the Ukraine funding into its own bill, according to U.S. media. That could further delay its approval at a time when Ukraine’s slow-moving counteroffensive against Russia needs all the help it can get.

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“This fight over the funding is critical, because if the American money dries up then the Ukrainians will have no choice but to cut a deal with Russia,” said Andrew Rasiulis, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who served in the Department of National Defence.

“It really is that simple.”


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The U.S. has indeed supplied far more military aid to Ukraine over the past 20 months than any other country. Its US$45.2 billion ($61.3 billion in Canadian dollars) in committed aid as of July 31 is more than twice the amount committed by the second-largest donor, Germany, according to data from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

Canada has committed $1.8 billion (US$1.3 billion) in military aid, and has sent more than twice that in financial assistance.

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Biden and the Pentagon have said repeatedly they will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. As of Aug. 29, there was approximately US$5.75 billion left in the already-approved funding for weapons and equipment taken from existing Pentagon stocks.

The new US$21 million request is intended to ensure the U.S. can supply Ukraine through the final months of 2023.

Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines of the war have called the first arrivals of U.S. military aid last year, including long-range multiple rocket launchers, a “game-changer” for their offensive capabilities that “literally saved us” and put Russia on the defensive after months of devastating attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Since then, the U.S. has led the rest of the world in supplying more large-scale equipment like battalion tanks and surface-to-air missile defence systems, along with attack drones and millions of artillery rounds.


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The steady stream of equipment deliveries to Ukraine, as well as the need to restock the Pentagon’s own domestic supplies, has led to a defence manufacturing boom in the U.S.

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A new artillery manufacturing plant is being built in Mesquite, Texas, and existing plants for Javelin missiles in Alabama and Florida and Abrams tanks in Ohio have ramped up production — putting the taxpayer funds allocated for Ukrainian aid back into American communities.

But the gains made by Ukrainian fighters using that U.S. equipment in retaking Russian-seized territory last year have slowed despite a much-hyped counteroffensive this spring and summer.

That’s because Russia, once put on its heels by the Western-supplied onslaught, has since worked to defend itself by installing anti-tank landmines while targeting weapons depots with long-range missile attacks.

Polls also appear to show American support for the war effort — and U.S. funding — is waning, though it depends on the question being asked. CNN found in August that 55 per cent no longer support authorizing additional funding for Ukraine, but a month later, CBS found a similar number still support sending weapons in general.

Yet the CBS poll also found Republican opposition to U.S. aid had grown since February, from 51 per cent saying Ukraine should not receive weapons to 61 per cent now.


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In July, 70 House Republicans backed an unsuccessful measure to block Congress from approving any additional funding for Ukraine. Those members included representatives whose districts include the facilities manufacturing weapons for the war effort, including the new Texas artillery plant, which Mesquite city officials have said will boost the growing local economy.

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Far-right Republicans, backed by former U.S. president Donald Trump, have made the argument for months that the Biden administration should be prioritizing domestic spending rather than funding a war overseas that has no U.S. troops on the ground.

“They’ve effectively made the argument, and the die has been cast, so to speak,” Rasiulis said. “So I don’t think even the economic benefit of increased weapons production will do much to change minds.”

That attitude hasn’t made much of an impact in the Senate, where Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has stressed the continued need for funding Ukraine.

“Standing with our allies against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is directly and measurably strengthening the U.S. military, growing the U.S. industrial base, and supporting thousands of good-paying American jobs,” McConnell said in a speech on the floor of the Senate this month.

“We need to continue to invest in America’s defence industrial base, both to support our partners in today’s fight and to help our forces deter tomorrow’s threats.”


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While the House struggles to negotiate spending legislation, the Senate is moving ahead in passing its own versions of the multiple appropriations bills needed to fund the government — including Ukrainian aid. Both congressional chambers must pass identical budgets before Biden can sign them into law.

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CNN and the New York Times, citing anonymous sources, have reported that McCarthy is seeking to separate the Ukraine aid from the rest of Biden’s US$40 billion spending request, which also includes US$16 billion in disaster relief funds for wildfire and flood damage suffered by multiple states this year.

That would force the Senate to act in kind and pass the Ukraine aid as its own bill, something Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he won’t support.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters last week that he had briefed senators from both parties on the situation in Ukraine and hopes to do the same with House members this week, as the Biden administration makes the case for continued support.

McCarthy is facing a slew of other demands from the far-right flank of his party before they agree to support any budget bill. Those include slashing about US$120 billion from the US$1.5-trillion spending deal McCarthy negotiated with Biden that brought an end to the debt limit crisis this past summer.

More amendments seeking to end Ukrainian aid are also anticipated when any spending bill finally reaches the House floor this month.

—with files from the Associated Press and Reuters



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