Biden Approves Billions for Ukraine

Biden Approves Billions for Ukraine

By Michael Rainey
Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Tuesday that feels like spring, at long last. As the cherry trees prepare to bloom in Washington, President Biden put the federal budget drama to rest at least for a few months while approving a new round of aid for Ukraine. Here’s what you need to know.

Biden Signs $1.5 Trillion Budget Bill, With Billions for Ukraine

President Joe Biden signed the $1.5 trillion budget package for 2022 at the White House Tuesday. Five months into the current fiscal year, the legislation removes the threat of a government shutdown until the start of the next fiscal year in October and includes more than $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine.

Speaking at the White House, Biden highlighted the Ukraine aid as proof that lawmakers from both parties can cooperate to address important issues. “Today we are again showing the American people that as a country we can come together,” he said. “That our democracy can deliver, can deliver and outperform autocracies.”

“We’re moving further to augment support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country,” Biden added. “With this new security funding and the drawdown authorities in this bill, we’re moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.”

The vast majority of the funds in the sprawling, 2,741-page bill will go toward an array of domestic programs and national defense. Domestic initiatives received a nearly 7% boost, for a total of $730 billion, while defense spending received a nearly 6% increase, for a total of $782 billion.

For a breakdown of the bill by federal department, see this overview by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. For a look at different categories of spending, see this piece from Government Executive.

White House Warns of Insufficient Funding to Combat Covid-19

One thing the omnibus spending package does not include is more money to fund the ongoing federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A White House request for more than $15 billion was stripped from the omnibus bill amid calls from Republicans for the funds to be clawed back from aid already ser aside for states, a funding mechanism strongly opposed by many Democrats in the House. Democrats are now discussing ways to provide the money outside the 2022 package, but Republican opposition in the Senate could make it hard to do so.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration warned that a shortage of funds will impinge on the federal response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“As we enter a new moment in the pandemic, Congress has not provided us with the funding we need to continue the COVID-19 response and minimize the pandemic’s impact to the Nation and our economy,” the White House said in a statement. “With cases rising abroad, scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months there could be increasing cases of COVID-19 here in the U.S as well. As the Administration has warned, failure to fund these efforts now will have severe consequences as we will not be equipped to deal with a future surge. Waiting to provide funding once we’re in a surge will be too late.”

The White House said the lack of funding will be felt in numerous ways, making the federal government unable to:

* Purchase additional vaccine booster shots if a new variant emerges;
* Reimburse health care providers for testing, treating and vaccinating uninsured patients;
* Purchase additional monoclonal antibody treatments, with current funding unable to cover a planned acquisition on March 25;
* Continue funding efforts focused on testing, vaccine development and treatments;
* Purchase preventative treatments for the immunocompromised;
* Fully surveil emerging Covid-19 variants;
* Maintain efforts to achieve global vaccination.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he is not convinced that the funds are necessary and in any event wants a better accounting of the funds already appropriated for the Covid-19 effort.

“There’s a doubt that they need this money with a lot of us,” Shelby said. “I’ve said this for weeks, a real accounting of the money that the American people deserve and then go from there. If there’s no money left, and it’s not hidden somewhere, and if they show a need, then you got, maybe, a persuasive case.”

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, signaled that he was open to providing more funding, but wants to hear more details from the Biden administration. “I’m for replenishing these accounts,” he said. “But it’s their job to help make the case as to how much they need and how long it will last. I’d like to have some of those facts, so I could advocate for that amount of money in that amount of time.”

For its part, the White House said it wants lawmakers to solve the problem on their own and is refraining from providing a path forward. “We will leave to Congress the details of how they get this over the finish line,” a senior adviser said. “There’s bipartisan recognition that we need this money and that the money they provided over a year ago has been well spent, but we defer to Congress on the specific legislative approach.”

Democrats in Congress, however, don’t seem to have a viable plan. “Once we lost it in the House, it’ll be tough to get back,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said Monday night. “I don’t know if those House members deluded themselves into believing that there was some other path, but I think it’s hard to find an alternative path other than in the budget.”

Quote of the Day

“Ninety-five percent of the time seems to be spent on partisan stuff, and 5 percent on bipartisan stuff. They’ve realized they’ve needed some accomplishments. I’m all for that. But I don’t think the age of Aquarius has broken out or anything.”

—Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), talking to Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine about the Senate’s recent legislative accomplishments, which come despite deep and persistent partisan divisions. “It’s the Capitol’s election-year surprise: The 50-50 Senate is actually working,” Everett and Levine write.

The US Government Has Spent $2 Billion on Covid-19 Funerals

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $2 billion to Americans to help defray the funeral costs for those who have died of Covid-19, officials announced Tuesday.

Funded by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, signed into law by then-President Donald Trump, and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Joe Biden, the Covid-19 Funeral Assistance program provides up to $9,000 per Covid-related death, with a cap of $35,000 for those dealing with multiple funeral expenses.

More than 300,000 families have received assistance so far, with an average grant amount of amount $6,500 per death, FEMA said. Families in Texas have received the most assistance aid in total, $189 million, followed by California ($168 million), New York ($132 million) and Florida ($125 million).

The program is still in operation, and FEMA officials say they are launching a new outreach program in areas that have recorded high levels of Covid deaths but relatively low levels of funeral expense reimbursement.

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