Republicans Give Dems an Ultimatum on Ukraine Aid

Republicans Give Dems an Ultimatum on Ukraine Aid

The speaker demanded 'transformative change' at the border.
Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The House passed a resolution condemning antisemitism, but Congress has yet to pass the supplemental aid package requested by the White House for Israel and Ukraine as Democrats and Republicans remain divided over the GOP’s border policy demands. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer teed up a procedural vote on the national security package for Wednesday, but it appears to have little chance of passing. Here’s an update.

Johnson Insists on Sweeping Border Changes in Exchange for Ukraine Aid

Republican and Democratic lawmakers appear to be moving further apart on a $111 billion supplemental spending package that includes billions in aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as changes in immigration and border policy. Senate Democrats released a version of the package late Tuesday after negotiations on a bipartisan deal stalled.

In a letter to White House budget chief Shalanda Young Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson made it clear that moving forward on Ukraine funding “is dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation’s border security laws.”

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Johnson underlined his approach. “The battle is for the border,” he said. “We do that first as a top priority, and we’ll take care of these other obligations.”

Johnson portrayed the situation at the border in near-apocalyptic terms. “The open U.S. border is an unconscionable and unsustainable catastrophe, and we have a moral responsibility to insist this madness stops immediately,” he wrote to Young, adding that he is waiting for the Biden administration “to meaningfully engage” on the subject.

Johnson noted that the House has already passed a bill, H.R. 2, that defines the major changes in border policy Republicans want to see. Democrats have rejected that legislation, raising serious questions about how much of the bill could make it into a bipartisan agreement.

Johnson also demanded that the Biden administration provide a clear statement of its strategy and objectives in Ukraine, and “transparency and accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars invested there.”

In a meeting with his caucus, Johnson reportedly said he is willing to take extreme measures in his effort to push through sweeping changes in border policy, describing the issue as a “hill to die on” for his fellow Republicans.

An influential conservative group released a letter Tuesday offering support to Johnson while calling on him to reject the multi-part Biden aid package. Heritage Action for America, a right-wing advocacy group, said that funding for Ukraine should be considered on its own and “legitimately paid for” rather than coming through an emergency spending package. “Please do not undermine the gains that have been made on behalf of the American people by substituting one corrupt, unaffordable end-of-year deal for another,” Heritage Action President Kevin Roberts wrote.

Zelensky cancels: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky had been scheduled to speak to senators on Tuesday via video call as part of a last-ditch effort to convince lawmakers to approve more aid, but the event was canceled as opposition to the supplemental package among Republicans in both chambers gathered steam. “Something happened at the last minute,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Schumer, who described continued support for Ukraine as “a turning point in Western civilization,” plans to hold a procedural vote on Wednesday on the still-developing Ukraine aid package, but there are signs that the vote could fail as Republicans line up against it in hopes of gaining leverage on border policy. “I hope all of our members vote no,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.

Some senators said a failed vote could help negotiations move forward after days of going nowhere. “Sometimes a failed cloture vote is just a failed cloture vote, and tomorrow we are going to fail to pass it,” Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado said. “And then people are going to have to sharpen their pencils and spend the next week negotiating a deal that keeps America's commitment not just to Ukraine, but to democracies around the world.”

Still, some lawmakers were more pessimistic as the risk of failure rises. “The world needs to be very concerned about what’s happening here,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said Monday night. “Republicans have decided to hold Ukraine funding hostage to a domestic political priority that is amongst the hardest in American politics to solve.”

The bottom line: There is a real and growing chance that the Ukraine aid package could fail. Even if Senate negotiators can make a deal that includes some reforms in immigration policy, much depends on the willingness of House Republicans to accept any bipartisan compromise on the border.

CVS Says It Will Overhaul How It Prices Prescription Drugs

Drugstore giant CVS Health announced Tuesday that it is dramatically changing the way its pharmacies are reimbursed for prescription medications, shifting to a model that it says is simpler and more transparent.

Under the new model, branded CVS CostVantage, the company’s thousands of pharmacies will get paid based on what CVS paid for the drug plus a set markup and a flat fee to cover its services. The new plan, similar to that used by Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company, represents a significant departure from the more opaque payment models widely used by pharmacies for the prescription drugs they sell — “complex measures that aren’t directly based on what they spent to purchase specific drugs,” as The Wall Street Journal’s Anna Wilde Mathews explains.

The change is reportedly set to be phased in starting next year before being rolled out under contracts with pharmacy-benefit managers representing employer insurance plans in 2025. The shift could have a broad impact given CVS’s standing as the nation’s largest drugstore chain. “It’s a fundamental change in how pharmacy services are priced,” Adam Fein, chief executive of the Drug Channels Institute, which researches the drug supply chain, told the Journal, calling the move “a legitimate step toward transparency.”

The change won’t necessarily mean cheaper drugs across the board, though. Some drugs may rise in price, though more drugs should cost less than they currently do, company executives reportedly said. “CVS said the change isn’t expected to increase its pharmacies’ profits, but would ensure more stable and predictable earnings,” the Journal noted.

CVS Health told investors Tuesday that it projects total revenues of at least $366 billion for 2024, up from an expected range of $351.5 billion to $357.3 billion for 2023, and operating income of at least $15 billion, up from around $14 billion.

The bottom line: Changes are starting to percolate through the prescription drug business as consumers, lawmakers and competitors push for increased transparency.

Number of the Day: 32

The number of job openings in the United States fell to an estimated 8.7 million as of the end of October, according to the Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The openings — down 6.6% from a revised 9.3 million in September and well shy of the 9.4 million expected — mark a 32-month low, a sign that the labor market is cooling. “The decline in vacancies brought the ratio of openings to available workers down to 1.3 to 1, a level that only a few months ago was around 2 to 1 and is nearly in line with the pre-pandemic level of 1.2 to 1,” CNBC reports.

The latest data provides some support for the Federal Reserve’s decision to hold off on further interest rate hikes as it seeks to rein in inflation. Fed policymakers are set to meet again next week, and analysts almost universally expect them to leave rates unchanged. Ahead of the Fed’s meeting, the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report for November is due out on Friday morning. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expect it to show that employers added 190,000 jobs last month, up from 150,000 in October.

Quote of the Day

“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running.”

— President Joe Biden, speaking at a campaign event in Boston on Tuesday.

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