Biden to use last of Ukraine funds this month if Congress doesn’t act

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WASHINGTON ― The Biden administration has notified Congress it will authorize a $1 billion tranche of Ukraine military aid at the end of the month, but it will be the last package Kyiv can expect if lawmakers do not pass additional funds to continue supporting the embattled country against Russia’s invasion.

Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord sent Congress the notification, obtained by Defense News, on Friday detailing how the Biden administration plans to make use of the last $1 billion in funding to replenish U.S. weapons stockpiles sent to Ukraine.

“Once these funds are obligated, the department will have exhausted the funding available to us for security assistance to Ukraine,” McCord wrote to the leaders of the Armed Services and defense appropriations committees. “It is essential that Congress act without delay on the administration’s pending supplemental request.”

“Doing so is in our clear national interest, and our assistance is vitally needed so Ukraine can continue its fight for freedom and to ensure Russia continues to fail in Ukraine,” he added.

Senate Republicans earlier this month blocked proceedings on a massive defense foreign aid spending package that included $61 billion in Ukraine security and economic assistance, insisting the White House and Democrats agree to unrelated U.S. immigration policy changes. Senators remain in Washington to continue negotiating immigration policy changes this week, but the House is in recess until January.

While the White House has less than $5 billion in presidential drawdown authority to transfer weapons to Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles, it will have no funds left to replenish that equipment after its last aid package later this month.

McCord’s notification indicated Biden’s final $1 billion package this month will include Javelin anti-tank missiles, 155mm artillery projectile rounds, tactical vehicle replacements, camouflage parkas and the procurement of classified missile systems.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the White House and Congress last week pleading for lawmakers to pass additional aid so Kyiv can obtain better air defenses against Russia. He also asked for longer-range Army Tactical Missile Systems that can travel as far as 190 miles.

Zelenskyy also visited Capitol Hill in September, warning Ukraine would lose the war without additional assistance.

While Ukraine enjoys bipartisan majority support in both chambers, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has vowed not to put additional aid for Kyiv on the floor unless it’s paired with a Republican immigration bill that Democrats strongly oppose.

Congress passed a cumulative $113 billion in economic and military aid for Ukraine last year. But a new Republican House majority whose members have become increasingly skeptical of Ukraine aid thwarted efforts to pass a more limited $6 billion package for Kyiv in September. Republicans opposed to the aid have voiced concerns Congress will have to continue appropriating similar amounts of money for Ukraine in the years ahead as the war atrophies into a stalemate.

Pushing debate on Ukraine aid into 2024 also coincides with the start of the Republican presidential primaries. The Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, has criticized Ukraine aid.

Additionally, the foreign aid spending debate is likely to run up against Congress’ deadline to pass the fiscal 2024 appropriations bills, with funding for military construction set to expire on Jan. 19 and the rest of the Defense Department on Feb. 2.

Congress must pass those bills to fund the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act, which it passed last week. The defense policy bill authorizes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative in both FY24 and FY25, a small fraction of the additional $61 billion President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve for Kyiv.

In addition to Ukraine aid, the roughly $113 billion held up in the Senate includes $14 billion in Israel military aid, $3 billion for the U.S. submarine industrial base, $2 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Indo-Pacific partners, including Taiwan, and funding for the U.S. southern border.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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