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US Congress passes budget including $14 bn for Ukraine

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US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both backed the funding package./AFP
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Mar 12, 2022 - 10:25 AM

WASHINGTON — The US Congress passed a huge omnibus 2022 spending bill Thursday including almost $14 billion in humanitarian and military aid to war-torn Ukraine, as its invasion by Russia entered its third week.

Lawmakers had been facing the latest in a series of shutdown showdowns, with government funding due to expire at midnight Friday into Saturday, meaning thousands of workers would have been sent home without pay.

With the deadline fast approaching, senators in the legislative body’s upper chamber followed their House of Representatives colleagues, who green-lit the $1.5-trillion package on Wednesday.

“We’re keeping our promise to support Ukraine as they fight for their lives against the evil Vladimir Putin,” Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democrats, said in a statement.

“With nearly $14 billion in emergency aid, Congress will approve more than double what the administration originally requested.”

Government funding regularly becomes a contentious issue in the United States, as the rival Democrats and Republicans play out a high stakes staring contest over their competing priorities for the coming financial year.

On three previous occasions during President Joe Biden’s tenure, lawmakers have delayed passing a full fiscal year spending plan in favor of extending Trump-era policies.

But on this occasion, Russia’s war against its Western-backed neighbor gave the process a new impetus and the final outcome was a comfortable 68-31 vote in favor of the budget.

The Pentagon has never run on a year-long stopgap, and military brass had warned repeatedly that this would be a huge problem for them considering the bloodshed in Ukraine.

A significant number of Senate Republicans had sought to slow down the process, arguing that Ukraine aid should be divorced from the larger funding package.

Others argued that they needed more time to assess the sweeping, 2,700-page funding deal, which impacts every facet of federal government.

The blueprint provides more than $780 billion in defense funding — an increase of 5.6 percent over last year — and $730 billion in non-defense cash, a 6.7 percent hike.

‘Growing more dangerous’ 

This satisfied Republicans who had demanded rough “parity” between any increases in the Pentagon budget and non-defense allocations, while annoying some leftist House Democrats.

But with the Democrats’ Build Back Better social welfare legislation stalled, the biggest source of partisan squabbling was gone and party leaders were able to leverage the huge support for Ukraine to get the bill over the line.

More than doubling from an initial $6.4 billion last week, the $13.6 billion relief includes aid for refugees, supplying weapons and supporting NATO allies in eastern Europe.

Schumer said the aid would provide food, medicine and shelter for more than two million refugees, and pay for measures to build back Ukraine’s wrecked economy.

“It will also inject billions into military assistance: it will enable weapons transfers like Javelins and Stingers, it will reassure and strengthen NATO, and add teeth to our defenses against Russia’s malicious cyber warfare,” he added.

His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell described the deal as a “downpayment” on the US commitment to defend the homeland and promote and global peace.

“The world is a dangerous place. It is growing more dangerous by the day,” he said in a statement.

“The road to peace runs through American power. We all know it’s true. So we have to budget accordingly.”

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