"Every Day Counts" — How The U.S. Shutdown Melodrama Looks In Ukraine
Congress and President Biden averted a shutdown, but thanks to a temporary deal that doesn't include new aid for Ukraine's war effort. An analysis from Kyiv about what it means, in both the short and long-term.
KYIV — The good news for President Joe Biden, a steadfast supporter of Ukraine, is that the United States managed to avoid a federal shutdown this weekend after both House and Senate agreed on a short-term funding deal.
With a bipartisan agreement that cut out the extreme wing of the Republican party, the U.S. Congress managed to agree on a budget for the next 45 days, until November 17.
The bad news, however, is that the budget excludes any new aid for Ukraine. On top of that, there remains a looming possibility that by year-end, the U.S. may face a full-blown government shutdown that could dry up any further funding support for Kyiv as Americans focus on domestic priorities.
The problem, though, runs deeper than mere spending issues. The root cause lies in significant shifts within the U.S. political landscape over the past two decades that has allowed radical factions within both parties to emerge, taking extreme left and far-right positions.
This political turmoil has direct implications for Ukraine's security. Notably, it was the radical wing of the Republican Party that successfully removed a provision for over $6 billion in security assistance for Ukraine from the temporary budget estimate.
On August 10, Biden had called on Congress to pass a $40 billion spending bill covering various needs, including disaster relief, border protection, and countering China. Of this amount, $24 billion was earmarked for three months of defense assistance to Ukraine. More than half of this funding, over $13 billion, was intended for equipment procurement and bolstering the Ukrainian Armed Forces, with the remainder designated for economic and humanitarian support.
On September 29, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Michael McCord, alerted Democratic Party representatives in Congress that the Pentagon had “exhausted almost all available funds intended for assistance to Ukraine.” He emphasized that delays in disbursements would jeopardize Ukraine's defense capabilities, potentially causing shortages of air defense systems and ammunition. This would be unacceptable during offensive operations and in the coming winter when Russian troops pose a heightened missile threat to critical Ukrainian infrastructure.
We cannot, under any circumstances, allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted
Despite the urgency, extremist Republicans close to former President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives are obstructing the passage of the corresponding legislation. They consistently bypass the issue of Ukrainian aid, creating a critical impasse.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, motivated by threats of resignation from some of his fellow party members, decided to acquiesce to their demands on Ukraine even as he struck a deal with Democrats to avoid a shutdown. It is worth noting that even after the weekend vote, Trump loyalists continued to threaten to push out McCarthy.
As a result, all parties involved, including legislators, senators, and the Biden administration, opted to approve the interim budget without provisions for Ukraine. Subsequently, President Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, Senate leaders from both parties, and congressmen all expressed their support for Ukraine. They agreed to address defense aid separately in Congress in the following week.
"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," said President Biden.
A member of the 47th Magura Mechanized Brigade in Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine.
Risks For Ukraine
Should a government shutdown occur now, Ukraine would suffer further because important programs, particularly in defense, would halt. Notably, blocking the U.S. government's operations could impact the implementation of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which funds projects such as the production of Abrams tanks and F-16 pilot training.
Currently, Kviv has sufficient funds available, and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, affirmed, "The government will work, so there is no threat to the supply of weapons and equipment previously approved."
There is optimism that both houses of Congress will support aid to Ukraine in the near future, although it remains a sensitive political issue due to next year's election and certain Republican Party candidates using it to score points with voters.
Additionally, some Republicans may seek to link Ukraine's aid allocation with addressing the migration crisis in the United States, as illegal border crossings have increased substantially. The party has stepped calls for stricter immigration controls, with some arguing to reallocate funds from Ukraine to enhance border protection.
The funds allocated to Ukraine from the U.S. budget are not overly burdensome and do not significantly affect the U.S. fiscal situation. The primary fiscal concern for the United States is its mounting debt, which stands at $33 trillion. Most of the U.S. budgetary challenges are associated with growing interest payments, increased spending on social programs, and supporting the Medicare system for the baby boomer generation.
Biden and McCarthy had previously agreed to address the debt ceiling and reduce spending by $100 billion by 2025, aiming to reduce the deficit by a trillion dollars over a decade. However, some Trumpist Republicans are pushing for more stringent fiscal restrictions.
When at war, every day counts
It is essential to recognize that the decision on providing aid to Ukraine is unlikely to substantially alter the real economic situation in the United States. Instead, it has become a political talking point during election campaigns, benefiting certain politicians.
What should Ukraine do? First order of business is focusing on building relationships with the Republican Party and its various factions. Looking ahead to October 2024, the U.S. Congress will pass another budget just a month before the Presidential elections. Until then, there remains a real possibility that Republicans may attempt to orchestrate an extended government shutdown.
If that happens, Kyiv can't claim ignorance and can't waste time. For while government shutdowns inevitably come to an end, every day counts when you're at war.
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