Concern is rising for senators in both parties that funding for Ukraine might get left on the cutting room floor this year as Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) “laddered” stopgap spending bill will keep the government open through late January, depriving the supplemental of a potential vehicle.
Lawmakers still say the Biden administration’s $105 billion supplemental request, which includes aid for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, the border and other items, remains a priority.
But there are serious obstacles standing between it and the finish line.
Among them is that despite the urgency of the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, there is no set deadline to provide the aid — which means that it will likely need to be attached to a must-pass bill to make it into law. Additionally, the “Never Ukraine” Republicans, particularly in the House, remain intransigent, especially as border talks falter.
This is all giving Ukraine supporters heartburn as days tick by without aid for Kyiv to defend itself against Russia.
“Just take a look at history. Every time we set a different funding-cliff deadline, that’s where all the attention is focused, and very few big things occur in the intervening time,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told reporters. “The biggest concern that I have now, and I think concerns that will be expressed by some of my colleagues, is the lack of Israel and Ukraine funding. That’s a big issue. That’s on top of mind.”
Ukraine aid has turned into a true battle royale for GOP lawmakers, and those in favor are in danger of going 0 for 2 after being unable to include a tranche of funding in either of the stopgap government funding measures passed so far.
Supporters of Ukraine argue this is a last-gasp moment to give the war-torn country a boost. However, the lack of a hard and fast deadline is creating headaches.
Congress is largely dependent on deadlines — often reaching a deal on key priorities right as the timer ticks down to zero — and the lack of a year-end expiration date on government funding nixes one option to ride the supplemental alongside.
“That makes it more complicated in some respects,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told The Hill. “But the necessity of the funds for both Ukraine and Israel are clear, and the timing is clear — now.”
“It’s not something that can just be ignored for months and months and months,” Reed continued, adding that he expects the supplemental will be “one of the first issues we focus on when we return” from the Thanksgiving break.
Schumer told reporters as much after senators passed the stopgap spending bill late Wednesday night, saying the Senate will move “immediately” to the supplemental and that he is “very intent” on getting it done in the near term.
With the continuing resolution in the rearview and government funding done until late January, senators are now discussing other potential vehicles for the supplemental, including the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or reauthorization of a key surveillance tool known as Section 702.
Adding to the headaches for the pro-Ukraine crowd, talks on a border and immigration component that would unlock the $61 billion being requested by the Biden administration have hit a wall in recent days.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters Tuesday that negotiations have gone south and are “not good” at the moment — a sentiment echoed a day later by Tillis, a key figure in those discussions.
“No, it’s not going well as long as we can’t get acknowledgement that the future flows [of migrants] have to be dramatically reduced by policy, not by funding,” Tillis told reporters. “There’s a foundational question about future flows that has to be answered and how you can measure it.”
“Our members are absolutely calling for something measurable. They don’t trust the administration to implement just based on funding provisions,” he said. “We need provisions that have the effect of law to get them to follow through.”
Schumer also conceded that talks have not gone smoothly, adding that “the border is a difficult issue.”
There’s still an ambitious agenda laying ahead for lawmakers in December on top of continued work on the NDAA and Section 702, headlined by continued appropriations work in advance of the initial late January funding lapse.
But hopes of getting the supplemental across the finish line still live and die with the border talks, a problem senators dealt with in late September. The Senate tried to hammer out a border component deal then in order to assuage conservative House members, but they determined that nothing would do the trick to win them over.
Some lawmakers also believe there’s a chance getting a big-ticket item out of the way such as government funding ahead of the usual pre-Christmas deadline could clear the way for more focus on the supplemental. Portions of the $105 billion request, headlined by funding for Taiwan and Israel in support of their war against Hamas, remain priorities for lawmakers on both sides.
“It eases the pressure,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said of getting the continuing resolution out of the way, adding “I think so” when asked if there’s a better chance to get Ukraine aid and the supplemental passed.