House approves aid to Ukraine in government financing bill

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), with Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY), holds a press conference for their Protecting Our Democracy Act to try to put checks and balances on Creating Presidential Power, on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 9, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The US House on Wednesday passed legislation that would fund the government through September and send nearly $14 billion in aid to Ukraine as it struggles to fend off an invasion by Russia.

Congress must pass a spending bill Friday to avoid a government shutdown. To give the Senate enough time to vote on it, the House plans to pass a second bill to extend current funding through Tuesday.

The Senate must approve both spending measures and send them to President Joe Biden for signature.

The House ran into roadblocks on Wednesday as Democratic leaders were forced to cut $15.6 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the larger $1.5 trillion legislation. A deadlock over the money delayed a scheduled vote by hours.

“We must continue the omnibus today, including emergency funding for Ukraine and urgent funding to meet the needs of American families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote to House Democrats. “It is heartbreaking to take the COVID funding away, and we must continue to fight for much-needed COVID aid, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill.”

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced a separate coronavirus relief bill later Wednesday. The chamber plans to vote on the legislation next week.

The last-minute change followed weeks of talks that led to an agreement on the spending account. Democrats and Republicans had to settle disputes over spending on domestic programs and the military — a debate that sparked after Russia attacked Ukraine last month.

The legislation is expected to be passed with the support of both parties. The House approved the spending package Wednesday evening in two parts, split between defense and non-defense financing. The first piece, which includes aid to Ukraine, was passed by a margin of 361-69, while the second part was approved in a vote of 260-171 with less Republican support.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backs the financing bill and said he would urge his caucus to vote for it. The Biden administration also supports the plan.

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Congress has used short-term bills for years to evade closures with last-minute votes. Funding shortfalls can lead to federal workers’ leave, disruptions to government services and widespread economic damage.

Both sides also want to avoid a shutdown to avoid the appearance of dysfunction, as the US plays a leading role in international efforts to hamper the Russian economy and strengthen Ukraine’s defenses. The House is looking to widen the gash around the Kremlin in a scheduled vote on Wednesday to ban oil imports from Russia — a move Biden took on Tuesday as he faced pressure from both parties in Congress.

The new spending bill fits into the broader US strategy in Ukraine. The $13.6 billion earmarked for the conflict will provide aid to the displaced Ukrainians, equipment for the country’s military and the deployment of US troops to neighboring countries.

Biden’s Office of Management and Budget said the money would enable the US to “respond quickly and efficiently to the emerging and changing needs in Ukraine, across the region and around the world.”

The $1.5 trillion bill includes $782 billion in defense spending and $730 billion in non-defense programs. Many Democrats and a handful of Republicans have long tried to curb military funding as the US maintains its place as by far the largest defense lender in the world.

McConnell said the bill included more defense funding than the Biden administration initially proposed and more money to support the Ukrainian military than Democrats wanted.

As the country’s coronavirus infections have plummeted since the worst wave of the ommicron variant, the Biden administration sought more funds to respond to potential future twists and turns in the pandemic. Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said earlier Wednesday that the proposed money would help the US “protect and treat against new variants, avoid shutdowns and fight the virus abroad.”

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