Biden Seeks $33 Billion More for Ukraine, Girding for Longer War
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden asked Congress to provide $33 billion for military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as the power to seize and sell the assets of wealthy Russians, as the Kremlin’s invasion grinds into its third month.
“We need this bill to support Ukraine and its fight for freedom,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday in a speech outlining his request.
“We need to contribute arms, funding, ammunition, and the economic support to make their courage and sacrifice have purpose,” he added.
The plan includes $20.4 billion in military and security assistance for Ukraine, $8.5 billion in economic assistance to help support the government in Kyiv, and $3 billion for humanitarian assistance and global food security, according to a White House statement.
White House officials said the funding would cover Ukraine costs through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Biden wants the aid designated as emergency spending that doesn’t have to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
Biden also asked lawmakers to provide new authorities allowing the administration to seize and sell the assets of wealthy allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We’re going to seize their yachts” and other “ill-begotten gains,” Biden said. “These are bad guys.”
The president is also seeking billions of dollars in additional coronavirus spending, after lawmakers failed to strike an agreement earlier this year to provide additional funding the White House says is essential to maintain supplies of vaccines and therapeutics.
The White House has said the conflict in Ukraine is shifting, with Russian forces refocusing their efforts on the country’s eastern regions after failing to quickly seize the capital of Kyiv. Biden administration officials have predicted that the repositioning could portend a bloody and prolonged battle, and said Ukrainians will require different kinds of weaponry and other assistance than the U.S. and allies provided early in the conflict.
Biden said that next week he’ll visit a Lockheed Martin Corp. factory in Alabama where Javelin anti-tank missiles are produced. The U.S. has already supplied Ukraine with hundreds of the weapons, which have helped Kyiv’s forces inflict heavy losses on Russia.
The new request includes $5 billion in so-called drawdown authority -- which allows the president to provide weapons from existing U.S. military stockpiles -- as well as $6 billion for a Pentagon weapons funding program for Ukraine and $4 billion for the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program.
U.S. officials say their focus has turned to making sure the Russian military cannot mount similar offensives against other neighboring countries, and is unable to replace forces and equipment lost in the conflict.
“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week during a press conference in Poland, shortly after visiting Kyiv.
Biden said the U.S. has spent nearly all the funding provided in a $13.6 billion aid package Congress passed in March.
“Basically, we’re out of money,” he said.
Funding requests traditionally begin in the House -- which enters a recess beginning Thursday that extends until the week of May 9 -- but the Senate may take up the proposed legislation first to expedite passage.
The request includes $500 million to support the production of U.S. food crops such as wheat and soy.
“Putin’s war -- not sanctions -- are impacting the harvest of food and disrupting the movement of that food by land and sea to nations around the globe,” Biden said.
A bipartisan group of senators including South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker has previously signaled support for including food aid as part of a supplemental spending request. The war has disrupted exports of wheat, corn, sunflower oil and other foods from Russia and Ukraine, and prompted growing alarm about how to deal with rapidly rising food costs.
Decisions loom for Democratic leaders on whether to tie the Ukraine request with funding for more Covid vaccinations and treatment. A $10 billion compromise was hashed out between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but the effort stalled earlier this month when Republicans demanded a vote on an amendment that would reverse a decision to lift pandemic-related restrictions on migration across the southern border, known as Title 42.
Such an amendment would likely pass the Senate, where vulnerable swing-state Democrats have come out against lifting of Title 42. But the provision could poison efforts in the closely divided House, where progressive Democrats -- who have cheered the end of pandemic restrictions impacting migrants -- could scuttle legislation.
A senior administration official who requested anonymity to describe the request before it was announced said it would make sense for the Ukraine aid and coronavirus funding package to move together, but did not say whether the White House would insist on that approach.
“I’m sending them both. They can do it separately or together, but we need them both,” Biden said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Wednesday suggested that the Ukraine bill could move without the Covid aid because the Ukraine measure is so urgent.
“We will give them all they need,” Hoyer told reporters, referring to Ukraine.
The White House’s request for greater authority to seize assets from Russian oligarchs already got an informal endorsement from the House, which voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a symbolic bill that urged Biden to sell luxury assets like yachts and condos belonging to wealthy Russian elites to help fund assistance to Ukraine.
Biden wants new powers that would enable the administration to streamline the process for the seizure of oligarch assets, expand the assets subject to seizure and establish a new criminal offense that makes it unlawful for anyone to intentionally process money directly obtained from what the administration calls “corrupt dealings with the Russian government.”
The legislation, if passed, would modernize the federal government’s ability to investigate and prosecute sanctions evasion by adding that crime to its definition of “racketeering activity” -- strengthening a tool of the Justice Department.
The proposal would extend the statue of limitations from five to 10 years on pursuing money-laundering prosecutions and post-conviction forfeitures, and it would make amendments to improve the U.S.’s ability to work with international partners to recover assets linked to foreign corruption.
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