President Joe Biden meets with the National Security Council to discuss the latest developments regarding Russia’s military buildup on the borders of Ukraine (photo courtesy of the White House).
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is asking Congress to provide $10 billion in assistance to Ukraine and $22.5 billion in COVID-19 funding on a fast timeline — within the next week.
White House acting budget director Shalanda Young wrote in a letter to lawmakers that this likely won’t be the last emergency funding request for either Ukraine or fighting the pandemic as both situations continue to evolve.
But she said the Ukraine aid is based on the best information the administration has at the moment and the coronavirus funding is needed to continue providing testing, treatment and vaccines.
Young asked Congress to quickly approve the emergency funding by attaching it to a government funding package that must become law before midnight on March 11 to avoid a government shutdown.
Adding extra cash or completely separate legislation on the annual government funding bill is relatively common, though asking Democrats and Republicans to reach agreement on more than $32 billion in emergency funding within just a few days will likely present some hurdles.
The Ukraine request is billions higher than the $6.4 billion ask the administration made just days ago, highlighting the challenges to determining how much military aid to send to Ukraine and how much to provide for humanitarian assistance as refugees pour into Europe by the thousands.
This request asks for $4.8 billion for the U.S. Defense Department to bolster the number of American soldiers in countries near Ukraine and send military equipment to that nation’s government. Another $5 billion would go to the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development for economic and humanitarian efforts.
The COVID-19 aid would go partly to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which would receive $18.25 billion if Congress fully approves the request. The U.S. State Department and USAID would get the remaining $4.25 billion for international vaccination and treatment efforts.
While approving the Ukraine aid may quickly get bipartisan support in Congress, the COVID-19 aid will likely face a more complicated path to approval on such a short timeline.
Republican senators are likely to want more details from the Biden administration about where previously approved coronavirus relief funds have gone and whether any of that funding could be moved around.
Thirty-six GOP senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday asking for details on how much of the $1.9 trillion in aid funding Democrats approved in 2021 has been spent.
The letter asks for information on how much of the $350 billion in funding to state and local governments was spent on testing and vaccines. The senators also want a list of the expenditures and “accompanying metrics used to evaluate their effectiveness.”
Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch, Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer, Montana Sen. Steve Daines, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson were among the Senate Republicans who signed the letter.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer encouraged lawmakers to back the request during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday morning, saying the country is at a crossroads with the pandemic.
“Either we act now to secure the progress we have made, or we risk backsliding if another contagious variant emerges in the fall and winter,” Schumer said. “As we cannot allow COVID to rule our lives, neither can we fall into a false sense of complacency.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt told States Newsroom on Thursday that he’s not sure if Congress can approve the roughly $1.5 trillion federal government funding bill as well as the Ukraine aid and COVID-19 funding within the next week.
“I think at this moment there’s more energy behind moving the aid to Ukraine than there is behind this(COVID-19 aid). And whether you could do both of those and the appropriations bill by the end of next week is questionable,” he said.
Blunt, who is the top Republican on the panel that funds the Health and Human Services Department, said the Biden administration will “have to be more forthcoming” about how it has spent coronavirus relief dollars during the past year. He also said he isn’t sure that $22 billion will last very long.
“I was frankly expecting a slightly bigger number than that,” Blunt said.
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