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National News

U.S. Senate advances $95.3 billion bill that includes emergency funding for Ukraine, Israel 

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Jennifer Shutt, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 8, 2024

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate moved past a procedural hurdle Thursday to begin work on a $95 billion emergency spending bill that would provide military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The strong 67-32 vote, which could predict eventual approval, came after a tense week on Capitol Hill that began Sunday evening when a bipartisan trio of senators released legislation they’d worked on for months to change the nation’s border security and immigration laws.

Just two days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that deal likely wouldn’t become law amid opposition from Republican lawmakers as well as former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

The Kentucky Republican said that senators should instead look for ways to approve assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The Senate on Wednesday officially rejected moving forward with the larger bill that included foreign aid as well as the immigration provisions, even though McConnell and others pressed for it in the first place.

Lawmakers were set to vote on the foreign-assistance-only bill right away, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer held that vote over until Thursday to give GOP senators time to figure out if they wanted to begin debate, or block the bill by using the chamber’s legislative filibuster.

After deliberating behind closed doors, some Republican senators voted to advance the bill while others voted to block its passage, as election-year politics continued to divide the Senate GOP and affect what would have traditionally been broadly bipartisan legislation.

Schumer said following the vote that he was working with Republicans to get agreement on amendment debate and signaled the Senate wouldn’t begin a two-week recess until it approves the legislation.

“Democrats have always been clear that we support having a fair and reasonable amendment process,” Schumer said. “During my time as majority leader, I have presided over more amendment votes than the Senate held in all four years of the previous administration.”

Schumer added that “for the information of senators, we are going to keep working on this bill until the job is done.”

Failure to pass the legislation, Schumer said, would “embolden autocrats” like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, “who want nothing more than America’s decline.”

List of senators who voted to move ahead

Republican senators voting to advance the bill on the procedural vote included West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, Maine’s Susan Collins, Texas’ John Cornyn, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Louisiana’s John Kennedy, McConnell, Kansas’ Jerry Moran, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Utah’s Mitt Romney, South Dakota’s Mike Rounds, Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, South Dakota’s John Thune, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker and Indiana’s Todd Young.

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only lawmaker from the Democratic side to vote against moving forward with debate on the bill.

Collins, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said during a floor speech following the vote that approving the emergency spending bill is “critical” for U.S. national security.

“There are pivotal times in our nation’s history when what we do in this chamber really matters,” Collins said. “How we vote may well determine whether people live or whether they die.”

The legislation, Collins said, would send a “strong message to Putin that his goal of capturing free, democratic nations will not be allowed to succeed.”

“It would reassure our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, that terrorists will not achieve their goal of wiping that nation off the face of the map,” Collins said.

Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said Congress doesn’t “have a minute to waste” in approving the bill.

“How we answer this moment will define America’s future on the global stage, and could well redefine the balance of power in the world,” Murray said. “So I hope today is truly a breakthrough for bipartisanship, that cooler heads will prevail from here on out and that we can move this forward in a reasonable bipartisan way.”

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement released before the vote that he would oppose starting debate on the package, which will include amendment votes, because he wanted to see Congress do something about border security.

“I enthusiastically support Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel, but as I have been saying for months now, we must protect America first,” Graham said. “I believe there is much more we can do in this regard and I insist that we try. We should not rush this process because Senators want to go on a break — it is too important.”

Graham on Wednesday voted against beginning debate on the package that included the border security and immigration law changes negotiated by three of his colleagues. That package would have also received amendment votes.

How the billions would be spent

The foreign-aid-only legislation, released on Wednesday, would provide $95.3 billion in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Most of that funding would go to the U.S. departments of Defense, Energy and State as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Defense Department would receive $48.4 billion in assistance for Ukraine that it would then use to replenish weapons and equipment sent to that country to aid in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

The U.S. military would also use the money to provide training, intelligence and support for Ukraine.

A total of $8 million would go to the Defense Department Inspector General to provide oversight of how the U.S. assistance is being used and continue work as the Special Inspector General for Operation Atlantic Resolve.

An additional $10.6 billion would go to the U.S. Defense Department to aid Israel in its war against Hamas following that organization’s terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 and the ongoing hostage situation.

The U.S. Defense Department would get an additional $2.6 billion “to bolster U.S. and allied capabilities in the Indo-Pacific and deter China,” according to a summary of the legislation.

Of that total spending level, money would be divvied up between replenishing weapons the United States military has sent to Taiwan, addressing underfunded requirements of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and building the U.S. capacity for cruise missile components.

The U.S. Energy Department would receive about $3 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration to address issues in Ukraine and to “support domestic uranium enrichment to bolster production of civil nuclear fuel and advanced nuclear fuel,” according to the summary.

The U.S. State Department and USAID would receive $9.2 billion for humanitarian assistance that could go toward “emergency food, shelter, and basic services to populations suffering the impacts of a confluence of complex and protracted crises, including in Ukraine, Gaza and the West Bank, East Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere,” according to the summary.

An additional $7.6 billion would be provided for economic assistance in Ukraine as well as other countries that have been harmed by Russia’s war in that country.

The U.S. State Department would get another $3.5 billion for foreign military financing for Israel to help that country “reestablish territorial security and deterrence.”

The Inspector General for the U.S. State Department and USAID would get $25 million to oversee use of the emergency funding in the bill.

The package also includes the Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence or Fend Off Fentanyl Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow the U.S. government “to apply economic and other financial sanctions to those who engage in the international trafficking of fentanyl, fentanyl precursors, or other related opioids to protect the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”The legislation is sponsored by Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.