Democrats and vets call for urgent approval of Ukraine aid as funds dwindle
Stars and Stripes October 3, 2023
WASHINGTON — Democrats in the Senate and House joined veterans and former military leaders Tuesday to urge Congress to approve immediate aid for Ukraine as funds available for the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion dwindle.
The calls for action followed a decision by Congress on Saturday to pass a stopgap funding bill that omitted Ukraine aid in order to win enough Republican support to avoid a government shutdown. Some Democrats said it is vital to correct that omission.
“Ukraine is not just fighting for their territorial integrity. It’s not just fighting for their democracy. Ukraine is fighting for our democracy as well,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., a Marine veteran. “They’re not asking for American troops to fight there. They are asking for Americans to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”
The White House asked Congress in August to approve $24 billion in aid to Ukraine, including $13 billion in military assistance. The money was expected to be included in the short-term spending agreement to keep the government open but was stripped away as Republicans in the House rebelled against continued funds for the Eastern European country.
House Republicans took the unusual step last week of separating funding for a 9-year-old program that trains and equips Ukrainian forces from its customary place in an annual defense appropriations bill. A growing number of Republicans contend money earmarked for the war would be better spent strengthening the U.S. border with Mexico and countering China.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., dismissed that view, pointing out that aid to Ukraine makes up less than 5% of the defense budget.
“All this talk about how, ‘Oh we ought to be spending it on the border, we ought to be spending it on our needs’ — We can do both. That’s what a great country does. We keep our word,” he said. “We do what’s necessary at home, and we stop appeasement, we do not appease.”
Congress has approved $113 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Defense Department’s top budgetary official warned congressional leaders this weekend that the Pentagon only has about $1.6 billion left from a previous $26 billion assistance package to replace weapons and equipment shipped to Ukraine.
The Pentagon still has $5.4 billion available to pull weapons from its own stocks, but money for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a program that purchases weapons for Ukraine, has completely dried up, Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord said.
He said Ukraine urgently needs air-defense weapons and ammunition as Russia prepares a winter offensive.
“We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs for just a little longer,” Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, said Tuesday. “But we need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support, especially as the department seeks to replenish our stocks.”
Russia said Monday that the delay in funding is a harbinger of rising weariness among Western nations to continue supporting Ukraine.
“Fatigue from this conflict, fatigue from the completely absurd sponsorship of the Kyiv regime, will grow in various countries, including the United States,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This fatigue will lead to the fragmentation of the political establishment and the growth of contradictions.”
The split in opinion over Ukraine was evident in the front of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday as veterans supporting additional war assistance clashed with protesters from Code Pink, a left-wing, anti-war organization. The protesters demanded peace negotiations and heckled some lawmakers as they spoke, shouting “no more weapons, no more slaughter.”
Auchincloss ignored the protesters as he touted the benefits of spending additional dollars on Ukraine. Steven Anderson, a retired brigadier general now working with the veterans group VoteVets, said the U.S. spent $300 million per day on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Ukraine was “a far more important fight.”
“Every dollar we have sent to Ukraine has been a good dollar spent,” Auchincloss said. “We have cratered half of Russia’s conventional military capacity, doubled their border with NATO, induced our allies to spend more on their own defense and sent a stark message [to] the dictator both in the Kremlin and in Beijing that America is not going anywhere.”
Efforts to pass additional aid could be complicated by the removal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as House Speaker on Tuesday. The ouster leaves the House without a leader and could paralyze any action on the chamber floor.
Blumenthal said he was worried about the logistics of pushing through the Ukraine package at such an uncertain time in Congress but emphasized most members of the House supported the legislation.
“We should not get bogged down on inside-the-beltway technicalities when our national security is so widely at stake,” he said.