Hill negotiators seek Ukraine aid deal, COVID aid in question | Health, Medicine and Fitness
By ALAN FRAM – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are working on a compromise on President Joe Biden’s $33 billion aid request from Ukraineeven as signs emerge that Democrats may need to swallow another setback from COVID-19 and abandon their goal of making pandemic spending part of the package.
Bipartisan talks between the heads of the House and Senate appropriations committees are underway in hopes of producing legislation that Congress could vote on as early as next week, members of both parties said. Changes to Biden’s proposal are likely — the price, especially for military spending, could rise — but there’s broad agreement on the urgency of helping Kyiv and its regional allies resist Russia’s 10-week assault.
Republican budget writers “probably take out some things and add some more. But I think overall everyone agrees that we need to do whatever we can to help,” said Senate GOP Leader No. 2 John Thune of South Dakota. He said some Republicans think “this package may not be strong enough, but I think it’s probably getting closer to the right balance.”
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cited broad support for the measure Thursday, but warned, “It’s not about addressing climate change.” McConnell’s aides said he opposed some funding proposals from international organizations that Republicans have criticized. spend money on alternative energy initiatives.
“If the Senate really wants to help Ukraine win, we have to show it by passing extra help. Clean, no strings attached, and soon,” McConnell said.
A participant said negotiators need to work out details of Biden’s proposals to provide health care, food and other benefits to Ukrainian refugees in the United States and strengthen government powers to use seized assets billionaire friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin to help Ukraine. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly describe the talks.
When Biden sent his $33 billion proposal to Congress last week, he wrote that “to avoid unnecessary deaths in the United States and around the world,” Congress should include additional billions for testing, treatment and COVID-19 vaccines. The Democrats hoped to do so. would pressure the GOP to agree to pandemic spending, which Democrats say is necessary to prepare for the virus’ next almost inevitable curve ball.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., resorted to more legal language, without specifying that the two issues should be combined. “We have to find the best way to do both, and that’s what we’re going to try to do in the next few weeks,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
A few minutes earlier, McConnell explained his views on the best way forward.
“There is overwhelming bipartisan support for Ukrainians to get as much help as they need as quickly as possible,” McConnell said. “For that to happen here in Congress, this package needs to move without the other extraneous issues.”
Although combining Ukraine money and the pandemic into one package has broad Democratic support, negotiators say party leaders have yet to make a final decision on it. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in an interview that he wants funding for Ukraine and COVID-19 to be linked because both are crucial.
“It could” fall off the bill, Leahy said of the pandemic money, “and I think that would be a mistake.”
Biden’s overall proposal is anchored by $20 billion to help Ukraine and neighboring countries defend themselves and resupply US weapons shipped to the region. There is $8.5 billion to support Ukraine’s economy and government and $3 billion for refugees and to supplement food supplies in the war-torn world.
The fine print of the proposal, contained in White House documents sent to Congress, adds texture to Biden’s plans.
This would allow Russians with advanced degrees in more than two dozen sciences – including missile propulsion, artificial intelligence, semiconductors and cybersecurity – to obtain employment-based visas and come to United States. In addition to strengthening the United States in these areas, the move “undermines Russia’s potential for innovation, to the benefit of U.S. national security,” according to documents accompanying Biden’s proposal.
The documents, which detail Biden’s defense request by each branch of the military, include $800,000 for the new US Space Force. Expenditures are described as covering intelligence analysis, flight hours, sustainment of weapon systems and other costs, but no further details are provided. The overall defense budget of the United States is approximately $800 billion.
There’s nearly $600 million for Patriot anti-missile systems in Europe, money to treat wounded Ukrainian soldiers at a US military medical center in Germany, and a proposal to let Afghan refugees who fled to that country since the U.S. withdrawal become lawful permanent residents if eligible.
Quickly approving aid to Ukraine would allow both sides to avoid an election-year display of dysfunction by turning into a spat over the wildly popular cause of helping Ukraine avoid disaster. to be controlled by Russia.
Passing aid to Ukraine separately would also preserve GOP hopes of cornering Democrats in a corner on border security, an issue Republicans are betting on in the November election for control of Congress.
If Senate Democrats move forward with a separate pandemic bill, Republicans plan to force a vote on keeping a Trump-era order citing the pandemic as justification to quickly remove plaintiffs asylum seekers crossing the Mexican border into the United States. The Biden administration has planned to let that rule expire on May 23, and Democrats are split on whether to extend it.
Already this year, a White House request for $30 billion for the pandemic was cut in half and eventually dropped by the House. A bipartisan Senate compromise later reduced it to $10 billion, but blocked GOP demands for a vote on immigration.
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