Karl Altau, JBANC
Three focal points have dominated in the United States Congress over the past two months:
1) The emergence of new House Speaker Mike Johnson.
2) Keeping Congress funded.
3) Passing the Ukraine supplemental.
Congressman Mike Johnson from Louisiana seemed to have come out of nowhere to assume the Speakership after the abrupt departure of Kevin McCarthy on October 3 following the successful “motion to vacate” vote to remove him led by eight far-right Representatives. This happened after Speaker McCarthy had relied on Democrats a few days earlier to pass a short-term continuing resolution (or “CR”) to fund the government until November 17. After three other nominations backfired (Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Tom Emmer of Minnesota), Johnson materialized and was nominated and voted in as Speaker on October 25, ending over three weeks of Republican turmoil.
With the delay in selecting a new Speaker, precious time was lost in accomplishing the work of Congress, which had extended an October 1 target date to finalize Fiscal Year 2024 funding bills. This was painfully apparent when considering the looming budget deadline and agreeing to a new funding package for Ukraine. A CR was passed on September 30 to extend appropriations until November 17 and to avoid a government shutdown. Unfortunately, this CR avoided an agreement on funding for Ukraine.
President Joe Biden had requested over $40 billion of emergency aid to Ukraine and for disaster relief. $24.1 billion of that amount would have been directed toward Ukraine in the form of security assistance.
With the Speaker’s position in limbo, and with additional Ukraine funding up in the air, the process was further affected by the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel.
On October 20, President Biden issued a new request for funding to bolster both Israel and Ukraine as these two countries engage in wars. The supplemental funding request was for nearly $106 billion total, with over $61 billion of the package targeted to Ukraine. Israel would receive over $14 billion in aid, with additional funding for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and the rest of the bundle directed to U.S. Southern border protection.
On November 2, House Republicans, under new Speaker Johnson’s direction, jammed through a standalone $14.3 billion bill that only addressed assistance for Israel, along with a provision that would chop funding for the Internal Revenue Service – a poison pill for the Senate.
The Senate, on the other hand, is working on a bill that supports the president’s larger funding package. It is hoped that this new version will soon pass through both chambers, all dependent on a new CR. Together with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been a staunch advocate for Ukraine support, along with a large majority of his Senate Republican colleagues. Senator McConnell, correctly, continues to view Ukraine funding as an urgent American national security priority. Existing funding for Ukraine is running out fast.
Since then, Speaker Johnson unveiled a “laddered” or two-step CR proposal on November 11, which leaves out funding for Ukraine. This, in essence, punts emergency funding for Ukraine for a second time in just over a month.
At the time this article was submitted, the House was scheduled to take up the CR on November 14. This would likely extend funding for four of the appropriations bills until January 19 (Agriculture, Energy and Water, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD.). The remaining funding bills would receive a February 2 extension.
With no funding yet for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, or other programs in this proposal, it certainly means a year-end and first-quarter 2024 legislative crunch to pass those independent of the CR.
Many Senate Republicans have been opposed to leaving Ukraine aid out of the bill. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), for instance, has said “I’d like to get the work done now,” adding that he’d like to pass funding for Israel and Ukraine “as soon as possible.”
A delay in completing the funding bills, particularly in the Defense and the State Department bills, would also mean a delay in appropriating funds for programs targeting the Baltic countries, most notably the Baltic Security Initiative.
In the meantime, Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine persists, as U.S. funding is frozen. This is not tolerable.
If you make one call to Congress this year, let it be a call for supporting the Ukraine supplemental funding request, which would secure $61 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. Ukraine will win – and Russia and its axis of evil partners will lose – if the U.S. helps give it the necessary means to do so. Ukraine’s victory will be a victory for us all.
You can reach out to your Member of Congress by calling the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121.
You can find your Representative or Senator at: https://congress.gov.
We also encourage you to sign up for ALA’s Call to Action UNIT: https://tinyurl.com/bddawes5. The site will provide you with the necessary tools to contact your elected officials on this and other important issues in the interests of the Baltic American communities and JBANC.