Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that proposed US aid to Ukraine and its European allies had surpassed $12 billion, as congressional negotiators moved toward a bipartisan government-wide budget package that would include new funds to combat COVID-19.
The statements by Schumer, D-N.Y., highlighted the momentum in Congress for supporting outgunned Ukraine in repelling Russian invaders, as well as assisting that nation and others in dealing with refugees and other economic and humanitarian issues resulting from the savage invasion.
“The clearest signal Congress can send to Vladimir Putin this week is enacting a bipartisan aid package,” Schumer said, “leaving no question that the democratic nations of the globe stand with Ukraine and against Putin’s horribly immoral and murderous conflict.”
According to Schumer, the funds will be used to help refugees, medical and food supplies, military deliveries to Ukraine, and aid to NATO partners in the area.
The apparent increase in Ukraine aid also revealed last-minute talks among senators as they strive to finish the long-delayed $1.5 trillion federal budget bill by Friday. The bill would raise defense and domestic spending, though legislators haven’t said how much more.
Since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, agencies have been operating under temporary authorisation. That expires this weekend, and without new funding, the government would shut down during an election year.
Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican leader, said he was aware of sums “in that ballpark” when asked about the new $12 billion figure for Ukraine. Both parties’ aides stated that the help was increasing. Ukraine enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress, and only last week, President Joe Biden requested $10 billion in aid for the suffering nation.
Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that there is a “great feeling of urgency” regarding the Ukraine help. He said that strong support for the aid would improve the $1.5 trillion bill overall because it would “keep this thing rolling.”
Biden also recommended an additional $22.5 billion to help the government fight the epidemic. Republicans argue that any additional expenditure should come from cash left over from earlier COVID-19 relief programs passed by Congress, which totalled more than $5 trillion.
Negotiators appeared willing to pay for pandemic expenses using unspent COVID-19 funds, according to Thune, and aides suggested negotiations were going in that direction. They also speculated that the $22.5 billion number may drop, albeit this was not confirmed.
If that happens, “there ought to be a very substantial vote” in favor of the whole plan, according to Thune. “However, we’ll see.”
House Democrats are to leave town for the rest of the week for a political retreat, so leaders want the bill voted on by Wednesday. That would allow the Senate a few of days to finish the bill before facing a government shutdown, which both parties wish to avoid.