Rand Paul blocks Senate passage of $40 billion in Ukraine aid

Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul challenged both party leaders on Thursday and delayed Senate approval of an additional $40 billion to help until next week. Ukraine and its allies resist the three-month Russian invasion.

As the Senate prepares to debate and vote on the military and economic aid package, Paul denied the leaders the unanimous agreement they needed to continue. The bipartisan measure, backed by President Joe Biden, underscores the United States’ resolve to bolster its support for outnumbered Ukrainian forces.

The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. The final passage is beyond doubt.

Even so, Paul’s objection was a departure from the overwhelming sentiment in Congress for quick aid to Ukraine, as it fights to resist Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion and attempts to hold him back. discouraged from escalating the war.

It was also a rebellion against fellow Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Thursday called on “both parties” to “help us pass this urgent funding bill today.” .

Paul, a libertarian who often opposes U.S. intervention abroad, said he wanted language inserted into the bill, without a vote, that would require an inspector general to review new spending. He has a long history of demanding last-minute changes by delaying or threatening to delay bills about to pass, including measures regarding lynching, Russia’s sanction, preventing a federal shutdown, the defense budget, government oversight, and the provision of health care to first responders to the 9/11 attack.

Democrats and McConnell opposed Paul’s push and offered to vote on his language. Paul was likely to lose that vote and rejected the offer.

Paul, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, argued that the extra spending exceeded U.S. spending on many domestic programs, was comparable to Russia’s entire defense budget, and would aggravate federal deficits and worsen inflation. Last year’s budget deficit was nearly $2.8 trillion, but it’s likely to come down, and the bill’s spending is less than 0.2% of the size of the U.S. economy, so which suggests that its impact on inflation would be negligible.

“No matter how sympathetic the cause, my oath of office is to the national security of the United States of America,” Paul said. “We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the American economy.”

Democrats have said they oppose Paul’s plan because it would expand the powers of an existing inspector general whose current jurisdiction is limited to Afghanistan. It would rob Mr. Biden of the chance past presidents had to nominate the position, they said.

“It is clear from the remarks of the young senator from Kentucky that he does not want to help Ukraine,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. “All he will accomplish with his actions here today is to delay that help, not stop it.”

Schumer and McConnell stood almost side by side as they tried to push the legislation forward.

“They’re only asking for the resources they need to defend against this deranged invasion,” McConnell said of the Ukrainians. “And they need that help right now.”

The House voted 368 to 57 on Tuesday to approve the measure. All Democrats and most Republicans backed him, even though every “no” vote came from the GOP.

Bipartisan support for Ukraine has been driven in part by stories of Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians that have been impossible to ignore. It also reflects strategic concerns about letting Putin seize European territory unanswered as his assault on its western neighbor enters its 12th week.

“Helping Ukraine is not an example of mere philanthropy,” McConnell said. “It bears directly on America’s national security and vital interests that Russia’s naked aggression does not succeed and incurs significant costs.”

Biden administration officials have said they expect the latest relief measure to last through September. But with Ukraine suffering heavy military and civilian casualties and no idea when the fighting might end, Congress will ultimately have to make decisions about how much more aid to provide at a time when US budget deficits are huge and the risk of recession which could require additional expenses at home.

The latest bill, added to the $13.6 billion approved by Congress in March, would push US aid to the region well above $50 billion. For perspective, that would be a total of $6 billion more than the United States spent on military and economic aid around the world in 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The push towards the crossing came as Russia continued to blast Ukrainian forces and towns in the south and east of the country. Reflecting international concern over the assault, Finnish leaders announced their support for NATO membership and Sweden did not seem far behind.

Mr. Biden asked Congress for $33 billion two weeks ago. It didn’t take long for lawmakers to add $3.4 billion to its demands for military and humanitarian programs.

The measure includes $6 billion for Ukraine for intelligence, equipment and training for its forces, plus $4 billion in funding to help kyiv and NATO allies bolster their armies.

There’s $8.7 billion for the Pentagon to replenish stockpiles of weapons it shipped to Ukraine and $3.9 billion for US troops in the region.

The measure also includes $8.8 billion to keep the government in Kyiv running, more than $5 billion to provide food to countries around the world that depend on Ukrainian crops devastated by the fighting, and $900 million for teach English and provide other services to Ukrainian refugees who have moved. in the USA.

The biggest hurdle to speedy aid approval was lifted this week when Biden and Democrats dropped their demand to include billions more in the measure aimed at bolstering US efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans want separate COVID-19 legislation to be a battleground for a fight against immigration during the election season that is dividing Democrats.

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