Three Funding Battles Looming in Congress

Three Funding Battles Looming in Congress

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Happy Wednesday! Did you see Ja Morant’s massive dunk last night? Here’s what’s happening today.

Three Funding Fights Looming in Congress

As Congress kicks back into action after a two-week recess, Democrats and Republicans are entangled in a number of interconnected fights, with partisan politics clouding the path to delivering additional aid to Ukraine, funding for the Covid-19 pandemic and a new immigration policy at the southern border. Here’s an overview of the issues and stakes involved.

Ukraine aid: The White House said Wednesday that it may send Congress a request for additional military, humanitarian and economic aid to Ukraine as soon as Thursday. Administration officials declined to specify a dollar amount to NBC News, but reportedly described the request as "massive" and said it is intended to cover the rest of the current fiscal year, which runs through September.

The U.S. has sent Ukraine more than $3 billion in military assistance and about $1 billion in economic aid since Russia’s invasion in late February. Ukraine recently asked for at least $5 billion a month in international assistance through June, with some $2 billion a month coming from the United States.

While there is bipartisan support for providing additional aid to Ukraine, Senate Republicans reportedly say they will block the assistance if Democrats look to tie it to a stalled push for additional pandemic funding. "I hope the Democrats will separate those two, said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, according to The Hill.

Covid-19 funding: A bipartisan agreement to provide another $10 billion for coronavirus vaccines, testing and treatment got bogged down earlier this month after Republicans demanded a vote on an amendment to prevent the Biden administration from pushing ahead with plans to lift Title 42, the pandemic policy started under former President Donald Trump that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants and prevents them from seeking asylum. The amendment from Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) would block the administration from ending Title 42 as long as the pandemic officially remains a public health emergency. "I don’t think until this Title 42 issue is resolved anything is going to go on with COVID," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told The Hill.

That GOP demand has left the Biden administration in a bind, as the Lankford amendment has some Democratic support and could well pass if brought to a vote. "Democrats haven’t said if they will link the Ukraine assistance to the coronavirus aid, but they are trying to figure out a path forward for the COVID-19 relief after Republicans blocked it," The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. "Because the Ukraine aid has bipartisan support and is seen as must-pass legislation, it could be an attractive vehicle for coronavirus relief that Democrats also view as vital."

Border security and Title 42: A federal judge in Louisiana on Monday announced that he will grant a restraining order temporarily blocking the Biden administration from lifting Title 42, but it’s not yet clear whether the ruling will stop the Biden administration's plan to end the policy on May 23.

The Biden administration is still preparing for an expected surge of migrants if the current policy ends. "When the Title 42 public health Order is lifted, we anticipate migration levels will increase, as smugglers will seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants," Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday in a 20-page memo detailing the administration’s strategy for securing the border once the pandemic restrictions end.

The new plan is split into six "pillars," one of which calls for "surging resources, including personnel, transportation, medical support, and facilities to support border operations." But as Roll Call’s Caroline Simon reports, Republicans largely oppose the idea of providing additional money to deal with an expected surge.

"Senate Republicans on Tuesday threw cold water on the possibility of supplemental funding, which might be used to shore up border patrol activities, fund detention centers, or provide food, shelter, and medical care for migrants," Simon writes. "Republicans are rankled in particular by the idea of spending money to address the fallout from an administration decision they oppose in the first place — even as they criticize the government’s current preparedness."

The bottom line: In Title 42, Republicans see an issue that can resonate with voters in November and give them leverage in largely unrelated spending fights. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Democrats now must decide whether to tie Covid funding to Ukraine aid and how to deal with the immigration issue.

Trump Administration Pushed $700 Million Covid-Aid Loan for Troubled Trucking Firm: Report

Officials in the Trump administration overrode objections from the Department of Defense to award a $700 million pandemic-relief loan to a financially troubled but politically connected trucking company, according to a new report from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Kansas-based Yellow Corp. received the loan in 2020 as part of a federal program to support companies during the pandemic that are vital to national security, despite Pentagon officials’ view that the company is not critical for national security, making the trucking firm ineligible for the loan under the terms of the $2.2 trillion Cares Act.

After Defense officials informed the Treasury Department that Yellow was not likely to be certified as essential, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly talked to Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the matter, and the company received certification and the loan. According to the committee report, the certification relied on numbers that exaggerated the extent of work done by Yellow for the Pentagon. A phone call between President Donald Trump and International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James Hoffa may also have played a role in the reversal; the Teamsters represent many Yellow employees and the union had lobbied for the loan.

"These records suggest that President Trump may have intervened to press for Yellow’s receipt of the $700 million national security loan based on the calculation that it could result in praise from a union leader months before the presidential election," the report says.

Subcommittee Chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) said he plans to ask the Treasury Department inspector general to look into the matter. "Political appointees risked hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds against the recommendations of career DoD officials and in clear disregard of provisions of the Cares Act intended to protect national security and American taxpayers," Clyburn said in a statement.

Yellow has denied the allegations.

For more details, see the committee report as well as writeups at Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

Quote of the Day

"We are certainly, right now, in this country, out of the pandemic phase. Namely, we don't have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now. So, if you're saying are we out of the pandemic phase in this country? We are."

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden’s chief medical adviser, appearing on PBS NewsHour Tuesday. Fauci expanded on his remarks Wednesday, telling The Washington Post that while the U.S. is transitioning to a new phase in which Covid-19 is more controlled and endemic, the virus is still a threat, especially outside the U.S. "The world is still in a pandemic," he said. "There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic."

Boeing Expects to Lose $1.1 Billion on Air Force One Contract

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said Wednesday that the aerospace giant lost $660 million in the first quarter on its project building new presidential jets.

Former President Donald Trump in 2018 famously renegotiated the contract for the pair of 747s, which are referred to as Air Force One when the president is on board. The new agreement established a fixed-price contract worth $3.9 billion, placing all the risks of cost overruns on Boeing.

"Air Force One — I'm just going to call a very unique moment, a very unique negotiation, a very unique set of risks that Boeing probably shouldn't have taken," Calhoun said in an earnings call.

The company now expects to lose about $1.1 billion on the Air Force One project. "We took some risks not knowing that Covid would arrive and not knowing that inflation would take hold like it has — and both of those have impacted us fairly severely," Calhoun said. "But we are where we are, and we're going to deliver great airplanes."

The first new presidential 747 was scheduled to be delivered in 2024, but now is not expected until 2026.

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