Ukraine Lobbies for Biden’s Supplemental Spending Bonanza
Volodymyr Zelensky is a talented lobbyist. He is helping push President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s four-part supplemental funding package.
Volodymyr Zelensky is a talented lobbyist. The Ukrainian president has secured hundreds of billions of dollars from Western nations to not only assist the Ukrainian military but keep his entire government afloat since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine’s cash, predominantly supplied by the United States since the war began nearly two years ago, is about to run out: “We’re at the end of our rope in terms of the existing funding,” a Zelensky advisor reportedly told POLITICO. “It’s not going to go beyond December.” So Zelensky and his deputies have kicked their lobbying effort into overdrive.
Zelensky was scheduled to appear on the big screen before the House and Senate in separate, closed-door chamber briefings on the current situation in Ukraine to plead for more money on Tuesday, but canceled at the last minute. That’s okay; he already had boots on the ground. His chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, his recently-minted minister of defense, Rustem Umerov, and the Ukrainian parliament’s chairman, Ruslan Stefanchuk, all took meetings on Capitol Hill.
Zelensky also has reinforcements in the Biden administration. On Monday, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young penned a letter to Congress claiming that the administration is “out of money to support Ukraine in this fight”: “Without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks. There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money—and nearly out of time.”
Yet the supplemental funding package currently being considered on Capitol Hill isn’t like the previous multi-billion dollar packages for Ukraine.
The Senate is currently trying to put together a supplemental package that will cover Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and the Southern border with a total expected valuation of just over $100 billion, mirroring the Biden administration’s previous supplemental funding request for $106 billion in October. If the Senate-negotiated supplemental is anything like President Joe Biden’s October request, the legislation would provide a whopping $60 billion for Ukraine. The plan, then, is to use Israel and border security measures (more on these below) as a cudgel against skeptical Republican senators and the Republican-controlled House to back Ukraine to the hilt.
President Joe Biden has found a reliable ally in the senate to push the four-part supplemental: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. When Biden unveiled the $106 billion supplemental in October, McConnell endorsed the package and attempted to force it on his own Republican conference during the shutdown negotiations. The Republican conference, however, shot it down, seeing it as a plot to undermine the conservative priorities of the Republican-controlled House and the party’s voters. Nevertheless, McConnell, in cahoots with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the president, has continued to push for the four-part supplemental funding plan.
The most contentious aspect of the supplemental negotiations is over border security. A bipartisan group of senators have negotiated for the past month over asylum and parole policies as well as funding for border infrastructure and personnel. Now, the talks that were supposed to stitch the Senate supplemental together are falling apart at the seams. On Monday, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said there is “no path” to a deal on border security because Republicans want to “essentially close the border.”
Unfortunately, Republicans insist that the talks are not dead, nor do they want to shut the southern border. McConnell insists the GOP is “still at table,” and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the GOP’s top negotiators for the supplemental’s border provisions, would not say there has been a “breakdown”: “We’re still swapping paperwork and we’re still having conversations. That doesn’t feel like a breakdown to me. That feels like we’re still working, just not making progress fast enough.” To the second point, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas (who is reportedly angling to be McConnell’s replacement as the Senate’s Republican leader) said, according to POLITICO, “We’re not asking for some sort of total shutdown of the border in the sense that no one can cross it anytime, anyplace.” Republicans are simply “asking for an orderly process” because “right now, it’s total chaos.”
Schumer is preparing to force a vote on Biden’s four-part supplemental as early as Wednesday, claiming “progress on the national security package has been on ice for weeks” because “Republicans have injected partisan and extreme immigration measures into the debate.” He likely won’t make much headway if he brings the supplemental package to the floor. Cornyn insists, “We’re not going to get to the supplemental unless there’s a solution” on the border.
Even if the Senate manages to cobble together a workable supplemental for the upper chamber, however, the supplemental likely won’t survive the House. Rep. Scott Perry, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told The American Conservative in a phone interview that $100 billion is “an outrageous sum.”
“We’re going to be $34 trillion in debt next month and there is no plan to pay for any of this,” the Pennsylvanian said. “Meanwhile, our border is wide open, and apparently we’re asking the American people to go $100 billion further into debt to ostensibly pay for the securing of some other nation’s border.”
As for the Biden-Schumer-McConnell strategy to combine Ukraine aid with funding for Israel and border security, Perry claimed, “lumping them all together is just code for we know these things are unpopular, but we're going to put it with something that is popular and force you all to vote for it or call you all bad names.”
The Senate’s so-called border security measures aren’t making the case to conservatives in the House, or Senate for that matter, according to Perry.
“Giving this administration more money to facilitate more illegal crossings is not sweetening the pot for the American people. It is adding insult to injury,” Perry insisted. “They already can't afford to pay their bills and yet we're supposed to send more money to this administration to have more illegals and the fentanyl that is killing American citizens in every community come in this country? It is a slap in the face, it is tone deaf, it is objectionable beyond description, and it is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives.”
“I mean, with all due respect to the senior senator from Kentucky, he’s not in charge of anything over there,” Perry told TAC. “He doesn’t have a majority. Chuck Schumer does. And, of course, members of the House Majority aren’t going to be listening to Chuck Schumer, and certainly aren't going to be listening to some other Republican who’s telling us to cave in on what we were able to pass with the overwhelming majority of Republican votes in the House.”
While most conservatives want to see the supplemental funding package broken into its respective parts, as the House has already done by passing a $14 billion aid package for Israel, some are open to the idea of a separate Ukraine funding supplemental that is tied to results on the southern border. But choosing a good metric—migrant encounters, migrants processed, migrant crossings—is very tricky, and, given the Biden administration’s track record, could result in less enforcement and more border crossings.
Perry is skeptical that such a plan could work. “Who’s going to certify that is happening? Are we to believe Alejandro Mayorkas and this administration? If we’re not, what’s going to be the entity to go to the border—all of it across four states—and certify that we have less?” Perry asked, rhetorically.
“What we need to see is the border secured, period. And then we’ll discuss other things like other countries that are having issues. But our country, our citizens—our bosses, the people that employ us—demand that we deal with the issues affecting them before we deal with other countries’ issues.”
The House has already moved to assist Israel, but has grown tired of Zelensky’s lobbying efforts. The $60 billion for Ukraine being floated “is staggering,” Perry said. “That number equates to the full budget for the entire Russian military for the whole year. And this is just supplemental funding now.”
“We’re just not going to keep writing blank checks to the most corrupt country on the planet for the sake of feeling good and for the sake of Democrats and whatever you want to call these Republicans that demand that the American taxpayer go further into debt for these things.” Perry added. “We’re paying for the Ukrainian government, their pensions, their government services, so on and so forth, when we can’t even afford to provide Americans our own.”
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The path forward for the House is “pretty simple,” Perry suggests: “You can just say, ‘These pieces of garbage that you send over are not going to make it to the House floor. Let’s try again.’”
The American people, Perry told TAC, see what is unfolding on Capitol Hill and think it “is the way of the past, is the status quo, is the uniparty, is the swamp, and it needs to be rejected out of hand.”
Every lobbyist suffers a loss now and again. Many have seen their causes go bankrupt. Many have been involved in losing wars. Irrespective of the outcome in Ukraine, there will certainly be a cushy job waiting for Zelensky on K Street or on the board of a defense contractor; maybe they’ll even let him wear his fatigues.