Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky defied leaders from both parties on Thursday, delaying Senate approval for an additional $40 billion in assistance until next weekand its allies withstand the three-month-old invasion of Russia.
While the Senate is ready to debate and vote on it, Paul denied the leaders the unanimous approval they needed to proceed. The bipartisan move, backed by President Joe Biden, underscores the US determination to bolster its support for Ukraine’s outnumbered armed forces.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Final passage is not in doubt.
Still, Paul’s objection was a departure from the overwhelming sentiment in Congress in favor of quick aid to Ukraine, which is fighting Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion and trying to keep him from escalating the war.
It was also a rebellion against fellow Kentucky Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Thursday called on “both sides to help us pass this urgent funding bill today.”
Paul, a libertarian who often opposes US interventions abroad, said he wanted to insert wording into the bill without a vote that would prompt an inspector general to examine the new spending. He has long called for last-minute changes, holding up or threatening to delay pending legislation, including measures related to lynching, sanctions against Russia, preventing a federal shutdown, defense budgets, state surveillance and deployment of health care to the first responders of the 9/11 attack.
Democrats and McConnell opposed Paul’s push and offered to vote on his language. Paul would likely lose that vote and declined the offer.
Paul, who ran unsuccessfully for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination, argued that the additional spending is more than the US spends on many domestic programs, is comparable to Russia’s entire defense budget, and will deepen government deficits and exacerbate inflation. Last year’s budget deficit was nearly $2.8 trillion but is likely to decrease, and the bill’s spending amounts to less than 0.2% the size of the US economy, suggesting its impact on the US economy inflation would be negligible.
“No matter how sympathetic the cause, my oath of office is for the national security of the United States of America,” Paul said. “We cannot save Ukraine by wrecking the US economy.”
Democrats said they oppose Paul’s plan because it would expand the powers of an existing inspector general, whose current jurisdiction is limited to Afghanistan. That would deprive Mr. Biden of an opportunity that previous presidents have had to schedule an appointment for the post, they said.
“It is clear from the statements made by the junior senator from Kentucky that he does not want to help Ukraine,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. “All he will do with his actions here today is to delay that aid, not stop it.”
Schumer and McConnell almost stood side by side as they attempted to push the legislation forward.
“They are only demanding the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion,” McConnell said of the Ukrainians. “And they need that help now.”
The House of Representatives voted 368 to 57 on Tuesday to approve the measure. All Democrats and most Republicans supported him, although every “no” vote came from the GOP.
Bipartisan support for Ukraine was fueled in part by reports of Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians that were impossible to ignore. It also reflects strategic concerns about letting Putin conquer European territory unanswered as his attack on his western neighbor enters its 12th week.
“Helping Ukraine is not an example of mere philanthropy,” McConnell said. “Failing to succeed in Russia’s naked aggression has a direct impact on national security and America’s vital interests, and comes at a significant cost.”
Biden administration officials have said they expect the latest relief effort to last through September. But with Ukraine suffering heavy military and civilian casualties and with no sense of when fighting might end, Congress will ultimately face decisions on how much more aid to provide at a time of huge US budget deficits and a recession risk that adds Expenses might require home.
The latest legislation, if added to the $13.6 billion approved by Congress in March, would bring American aid to the region to well over $50 billion. That would be a total of $6 billion more than what the US spent on military and economic aid worldwide in 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
The push for passage came as Russia continued to blow up Ukrainian forces and towns in southern and eastern parts of the country. In light of the international concern sparked by the attack, Finnish leaders announced their support for NATO entry, and Sweden did not appear to be far behind.
Mr. Biden asked Congress for $33 billion two weeks ago. It wasn’t long before lawmakers added $3.4 billion to its requests for military and humanitarian programs.
The measure includes $6 billion for Ukraine to provide intelligence, equipment and training for its armed forces, and $4 billion to help Kyiv and NATO allies build their armed forces.
There’s $8.7 billion for the Pentagon to rebuild stockpiles of weapons it shipped to Ukraine and $3.9 billion for US troops in the region.
The measure also includes $8.8 billion to keep the government in Kyiv functioning, more than $5 billion to help feed countries around the world that depend on Ukrainian crops damaged by the Fighting has been destroyed, and $900 million to teach English and support Ukrainian refugees who have moved to the United States.
The biggest hurdle to speedy approval of the aid was cleared this week when Biden and Democrats dropped their call for billions more to be included in the measure to help U.S. efforts to combat the crisis. Republicans want separate COVID-19 legislation to be a battleground for an election-season immigration battle that is dividing Democrats.