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House advances $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid along with government funding

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, of Calif., arrives to speak to the media, Thursday, March 3, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives to speak to the media, Thursday, March 3, 2022, on Capitol Hill. The House on Wednesday passed legislation to keep the government open and provide assistance to Ukraine.

The House voted on Wednesday to approve a massive spending package that includes $1.5 trillion in funding to keep the federal government open along with $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine.The Senate is expected to vote later this week on the package. The government spending section of the bill would avoid a looming government shutdown by funding operations through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The broader package is the result of lengthy bipartisan negotiations that took on new urgency as Congress raced to respond after Russia invaded Ukraine. The overall spending package includes a 5.6%, increase in defense spending over current levels, along with 6.7% increase for nondefense spending. Leaders insisted on reaching an agreement on government spending in order to avoid extending current funding levels, which do not meet the current budgetary needs of federal agencies. "This is a dangerous time for the United States and our partners," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement on Tuesday. "This compromise legislation will enable us to invest in military modernization to keep pace with Russia and China and urgently deliver the emergency aid that the brave people of Ukraine desperately need."The $13.6 billion emergency package for Ukraine includes money for humanitarian aid, defense assistance and economic support for the region. Lawmakers more than doubled the amount of money in the package over the past several weeks as the severity of the fighting and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine grew. The money is divided between what lawmakers term "lethal" and "humanitarian" aid. The humanitarian section includes $4 billion for people displaced within Ukraine and the estimated 2 million people who have fled the country since the war began just two weeks ago. More than $2.5 billion will go to the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide food and health care support. Another $1.4 billion is intended for migration and refugee assistance.The defense, or lethal aid, section provides $3 billion to support the U.S. military's European Command and is to be used for "operations mission support, the deployment of personnel to the region, and intelligence support." Another $650 million will go to grants or direct loans administered by the Department of Defense Foreign Military Financing. The legislation also gives President Biden the authority to transfer an additional $3 billion in defense equipment to Ukraine and other allies supporting Ukraine.House Democrats were forced to remove roughly $15 billion in additional COVID-related funding for states after some Democrats objected to the way the funding was structured. Republicans had opposed new COVID spending, so top Democrats chose to reclaim some already allocated but unspent COVID funds to help pay for the new package. Some Democrats said that would mean as many as 30 states would lose money they were already planning to spend.The White House had asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency spending for immediate needs. A White House official said removing the money from the package would have "dire" consequences, including a decline in testing capacity in March.A fund that covers testing and treatments for uninsured American would run out of money in April, and the following month, the U.S. supply of monoclonal antibodies would run out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the final vote. Pelosi blamed Republicans for refusing to sign off on new funding to help prepare for new variants, add to vaccine stockpiles and provide more global vaccine assistance. Most Democrats said they hoped to include the COVID money in this large package full of must-pass priorities in order to ensure the money would have sufficient votes to pass both the House and Senate.The decision to cut the COVID money now leaves Democrats with no clear path for passing the funding in the future. The package is expected to easily pass the Senate but the House also approved a short-term spending extension to avoid a potential shutdown when the current spending bill runs out on Friday. That stop-gap would give Senators an additional 3 days to clear any procedural hurdles before a final vote. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.