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Biden vs. Trumpists - How the U.S. Congress avoids shutdown and whether Ukraine receives funds

Biden vs. Trumpists - How the U.S. Congress avoids shutdown and whether Ukraine receives funds U.S. President Joe Biden (Phoro: Getty Images)

The United States has avoided a government shutdown for the second time in two months due to disagreements over the next year's government budget. However, Ukraine has no reason to rejoice, as the question of allocating $60 billion in aid is still unresolved. Will Ukraine receive the promised funds, why is it crucial for President Joe Biden, and what is happening in the U.S. Congress? – RBC-Ukraine explores these questions in the article.

During the preparation of the material, statements from American officials and an exclusive comment from the Executive Director of the American non-profit organization Renew Democracy Initiative, Uriel Epshtein, were used.

The temporary U.S. budget, approved in early October, which allowed avoiding a government shutdown, was only designed until November 17. During this time, Congress failed to reach an agreement on the budget for the next year and did not discuss it at all. Therefore, lawmakers had two options: extending temporary funding or sending the government into a shutdown. Despite political differences, even within the Republican Party, the House of Representatives prevented a government shutdown.

Last week, the new Speaker, Mike Johnson, introduced his bill to the House, under which funding for some government programs will be provided until January 19 of the following year and for others until February 2. His initiative did not satisfy either the Democrats (as it did not include funds for Israel and Ukraine) or the Trumpists (as the bill does not propose spending cuts), jeopardizing the possibility of its adoption in the House of Representatives. However, ultimately, Democrats supported Johnson's initiative, providing the necessary votes for adoption despite resistance from some far-right Republicans.

Next, Johnson's bill still needs approval from the Senate, but as expected, there should be no problems with that, as well as with the signing by President Joe Biden. Therefore, the U.S. is expected to avoid a government shutdown for at least the next few months.

This maneuver will give Congress more time to reach an agreement on the government budget for next year, which American lawmakers are struggling with. In addition to the Republicans' demand to cut a series of expenses, the stumbling block was initially embedded in the budget of over $20 billion in aid to Ukraine, against which the Trumpists spoke out.

Congress deadlock

In September, the consideration of the budget in the House of Representatives reached an impasse, and the U.S. faced the threat of a government shutdown. At the last moment, Congress approved a temporary budget for 45 days without aid to Ukraine to try to reach an agreement.

However, the situation became even more complicated afterward when the Trumpists forced the resignation of Republican Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the House, who had reached an agreement with the White House to avoid a government shutdown. The election of a new speaker stretched for three weeks, during which time the work of the House was practically blocked.

Biden vs. Trumpists - How the U.S. Congress avoids shutdown and whether Ukraine receives funds

Johnson managed to prevent a shutdown in the United States (photo: Getty Images)

While battles were ongoing in the U.S. Congress, a war erupted in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas militants. This posed another challenge for Washington, as Israel, a vital ally of the U.S. in the region, now needed assistance with air defense and ammunition. Therefore, the White House decided to combine a request for aid to Ukraine and Israel, hoping to expedite the consideration. However, things did not go as planned for Biden.

Representative Johnson, a Trumpist chosen by Republicans as the new Speaker of the House, immediately started throwing a wrench into the works for the presidential administration. He opposed combining aid to Kyiv and Tel Aviv and introduced his bill in the House to allocate over $14 billion for Israel. At the same time, Johnson promised to introduce a bill for Ukraine later, but he bundled it with funds for strengthening the southern U.S. border, a demand strongly advocated by Trump supporters.

The White House promptly warned that Biden would veto a separate aid package for Israel. Although Johnson's bill received approval from the House, it is unlikely to gather enough support in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. Therefore, the bill will most likely not reach the president's desk.

The tactical struggle around combining aid to Ukraine and Israel into one package is an element of a broader confrontation between Republicans and Biden's team in the context of the already-started presidential campaign.

While considering the government budget, Trump supporters managed to outmaneuver the White House and achieve their goal - excluding aid to Ukraine. Now, we can observe the second round of confrontation. If Biden cannot push through his idea of allocating funds to Ukraine and Israel in one package through Congress, it will be his second setback in the behind-the-scenes struggle in Washington.

Ukrainian question

It is no secret that Ukraine's ability to repel a full-scale Russian invasion largely depends on the assistance of the United States. The U.S. provides Ukrainian forces with its weaponry, orders the production of defensive weapons, and helps cover Ukraine's budget deficit through grants. Therefore, the stability of American funding is a crucial factor for Ukrainians.

In total, the U.S. has allocated $113 billion from its budget to support Ukraine since the start of the full-scale Russian aggression. However, the funds are running out. The U.S. has already used 95% of the available military aid package. The Pentagon has a little over a billion dollars left, so the U.S. has decided to stretch its use by sending smaller portions of aid to Ukraine.

At the end of October, U.S. President Joe Biden submitted a request to Congress for over $100 billion in aid to allies and others. This request includes $60 billion for military and financial support to Ukraine. Israel, which has been at war with Hamas since October, is expected to receive another $14 billion. This ten-figure package includes funds to assist Taiwan and additional funding for the southern U.S. border.

However, there are challenges in the consideration of this request as well. The Trumpist faction of Republicans, roughly a third of their House representatives, is generally opposed to supporting Ukraine, which forces the entire party to navigate within its boundaries.

Biden vs. Trumpists - How the U.S. Congress avoids shutdown and whether Ukraine receives funds

Biden wants to allocate aid to Ukraine and Israel together (photo: Vitaliy Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

The struggle between Biden and the Republicans over combining aid to Ukraine and Israel cannot last forever. Firstly, the funds allocated for Ukrainians earlier are running out. Secondly, the war in the Middle East may end before Americans can give any additional assistance to Israel, essentially rendering it useless.

According to Uriel Epshtein, the Executive Director of the American non-profit organization Renew Democracy Initiative, the chances of approving combined aid to Ukraine and Israel are currently at 60%. However, Epshtein believes that Biden is unlikely to compromise with Republicans, such as dividing the aid or reducing its amount.

"It can only happen if Republicans unite on this issue, which is also doubtful. It's worth remembering that among Republicans, at least half support Ukraine. Even though the Speaker is skeptical, the opinion of the majority matters," noted the expert.

In the end, Ukraine will receive aid one way or another, either in a consolidated package or separately. The format is essential for the speed of fund allocation, explained Epshtein. "If they are combined, aid to Ukraine can be provided more quickly. If they are separate, Ukraine will receive it later," he added.

As Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated, the Senate plans to begin considering Biden's request only after Thanksgiving, which is celebrated in the U.S. on November 23. Thus, even if there is an agreement in the House regarding the Ukrainian issue, the bill will only reach the president's desk closer to early December.

Nevertheless, as Epshtein pointed out, allocating $60 billion in aid to Ukraine is not the ultimate goal. What matters is that U.S. support for Ukraine is provided as much as needed, as declared by Biden himself.

Even if Congress manages to overcome its current disputes and somehow vote for aid to Ukraine, there is a risk of waiting too long for the next significant package. As the next U.S. elections will be in full swing by the beginning of the fall, the Ukrainian issue will depend even more on them than it does now.US aid to Ukraine - will Congress approve Biden's request