Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pleaded with Western allies to send aid to his country in the form of weapons or funds since Russia invaded his country on February 28. The United States has answered with a largely bipartisan spending bill that includes nearly $14 million in aid to the embattled country.
The House passed the bill just a day before sending it over to the Senate. Prior to passage in the House, however, Democrats had to drop an addition $16 billion that was earmarked for COVID-19 funding. These monies would have been spent in increasing vaccine supplies across the country, paid for more treatments (including the monoclonal antibody treatments), and provided funding for testing.
This portion of the House bill was scrapped after both Democrats and Republicans were unable to come to an agreement over how these funds would be attained.
The Biden Administration had originally requested $30 billion for COVID relief funding. The White House cited a concern that supplies might run out without new funding.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said regarding the requested funding: “We need this additional funding to meet the needs of the American public.”
Conversely, Republicans in the House had signaled weeks ago that this measure was not popular among their party.
Three dozen Republican Senators sent a letter to the White House asking questions about the monies designated for the American Rescue Plan. Specifically, they asked how much of the ARP funds are “unspent, unobligated, or undispersed.”
The Republican Senators’ letter also requested information on the amount the federal government has already spent on vaccines and testing.
Senator James Lankford (R-OK) specifically asked, “What is unspent? If we do anything for COVID, we should first look at those dollars to make sure they’re repurposed to be able to spend for any COVID future expenses.”
However, some agencies pointed out that some states and cities may have never had enough funding from the beginning of the pandemic.
Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of openthebooks.com, an organization that “describes itself as a transparency group devoted to posting online all the disclosed spending of every level of government across the United States,” spoke out on the issue: “We found that the fifty richest places across America received $100 million in COVID relief funding. They can’t argue that they needed the money but again, they’re actually taking the money. They’re not sending it back.”
In a rare compromise in the House, Democratic leaders made a deal with Republicans to offset some money with funds already allocated to the American Rescue Plan.
The bill then went to the Senate, where it passed by a margin of 68 – 31.
This bill is 2,741 pages in length and is considered an omnibus spending bill. It will fund the federal government through September 30.
The bill also increased spending on defense to $782 billion, up 5.6 percent from previous spending. Domestic spending is increased by 7.6 percent.
President Biden had originally requested a sixteen percent increase to domestic spending with only two percent increase in funding to defense spending in spring 2021.
Even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi admitted that the COVID funding had to be scrapped in favor of more pressing financial matters: “We’ve got a war going on in Ukraine. We have important work that we’re doing here.”
Congress was facing a deadline of Friday to get the spending bill through both chambers or face a government shutdown at midnight.
The Ukrainian people will receive nearly $14 billion in aid, some in the form of weapons and some in the form of humanitarian aid. President Zelenskyy had spoken to Congressional leaders this past Saturday asking for more aid as Russia continues its onslaught in his country.
This week, agreed-upon ceasefires in an effort to allow for Ukrainian civilians to evacuate have been violated. Reports hold that there are land mines along some roads. Nearly 2 million people have left the Ukraine increasing the humanitarian crisis already plaguing the country.