Senate Forges Ahead on Ukraine Bill Without Border Reforms

Senate Forges Ahead on Ukraine Bill Without Border Reforms

Schumer vowed to keep going on the aid bill.
Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, February 8, 2024

Happy Thursday — a big day for the leading presidential candidates and the legal system. The Department of Justice declined to bring charges against President Joe Biden as it ended its investigation into his retention of classified documents after his vice presidency, while lawyers for former president Trump argued at the Supreme Court that he should not be kept off the ballot in Colorado due to his involvement in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Meanwhile, senators agreed to advance a slimmed-down security bill that would provide aid for U.S. allies including Ukraine and Israel while setting aside issues related to the southern border, though it’s not clear if the legislation can get through Congress.

Here’s what you need to know.

Senate Advances Ukraine-Israel Package Without Border Reforms

The Senate on Thursday advanced a $95.3 billion package of aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that excludes border security measures that Republicans had rejected a day earlier as part of a broader package.

Thursday’s 67-32 procedural vote saw 17 Republicans support the legislation. The tally opens the door for the Senate to move forward with emergency foreign aid that has been bogged down for months as Republicans insisted that any new funding for allies should come only after more restrictive policies were adopted for the southern border.

"This is a good first step," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. "This bill is essential for our national security, for the security of our friends in Ukraine, in Israel, for humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza, and for Taiwan. The bill also strengthens our military at a time when they need it most."

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill includes:

* $60.06 billion to support Ukraine in its war against Russia and $481 million for displaced Ukrainians;

* $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel;

* $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine, and other conflict zones;

* $4.83 billion to support Taiwan and "key regional partners in the Indo-Pacific";

* $2.44 billion to support U.S. Central Command operations and address expenditures related to conflict in the Red Sea.

* $400 million to help nonprofits and places of worship beef up security.

The package has a long way to go, though. It remains unclear whether Senate Republicans will provide enough votes for final passage and, if they do, whether House Speaker Mike Johnson will take up the plan despite opposition from many in his conference to providing additional money for Ukraine.

Schumer said he hopes to reach an agreement with Republicans regarding amendments to the bill, which some conservatives are demanding — including some changes related to border policy. But the Democratic leader vowed to push ahead even as the Senate has a two-week recess scheduled to begin next week and some fellow lawmakers are itching to get out of town. "For the information of senators, we are going to keep working on this bill until the job is done," he vowed.

It may take a while. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who opposes foreign aid, has already said he won’t agree to speed up the process, which would require the consent of all 100 senators. "I will insist on every minute and every day of it," Paul said. "I want to be here a week, because I want to talk about what a disaster the bill is and what a mistake it is to send our money to other countries before we fix our own problems here."

Republicans still have to overcome some internal divisions. "There seems to be a lot of willingness by the Democrats to give us amendments," Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana said, according to Politico. "It's whether we can get everyone [in the GOP] around a strategy of supporting a certain menu of amendments. I think the answer there is going to be no."

The bottom line: "The current effort could be the last chance to approve aid to Ukraine in the foreseeable future," NBC News notes.

Thursday’s vote represents legislative progress but is no guarantee that Congress will deliver the aid package for Ukraine and Israel. For now, senators will keep hashing it out. "There's a possibility," Politico says, "that senators could be watching the Super Bowl from their Capitol hideaways."

Chart of the Day: Rising Interest Costs

As the Congressional Budget Office reminded us yesterday, the cost of interest payments on the national debt is rising rapidly. Sifting through the data from the latest CBO outlook, the deficit hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget noted that interest costs are projected to exceed spending on both defense and Medicare this year, making interest the second largest government expenditure, trailing only Social Security.

"Net interest has been exploding over the past few years, with payments rising from $223 billion in 2015 to $352 billion in 2021 before nearly doubling to $659 billion in 2023," CRFB says. "In 2024, CBO projects net interest will total $870 billion, a near-record 3.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."

While interest costs are projected to continue to rise, Medicare spending will rise even faster, according to CBO projections, overtaking interest costs once again in 2028.


Medicaid Enrollment Headed Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels: KFF

The number of people on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program soared during the Covid-19 pandemic as federal rules prevented states from removing beneficiaries from their programs, with enrollment peaking at around 94 million.

As the pandemic came to an official end last year, states began to remove beneficiaries once again, and since April 2023, more than 16 million people have been dropped from Medicaid and CHIP.

At the same time, millions of new enrollees have signed up for coverage. According to the healthcare foundation KFF, the net change in Medicaid and CHIP enrollment since April 2023 comes to a reduction of about 9.5 million, putting total enrollment on track to hit about 71 million by the end of the year, roughly where it stood before the pandemic.

"What we are seeing is not dissimilar to what we saw before the pandemic," said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at KFF, referring to the churn in enrollment that has always been part of the health coverage programs for low-income Americans. "It is just happening on a bigger scale and more quickly."

Quote of the Day

"We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory."

From a 388-page report by Special Counsel Robert Hur on President Biden’s retention of classified documents. The report included the above explanation for its conclusion that no criminal charges against Biden are warranted, but included highly damaging details, including evidence that the president "willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency" and descriptions of his "significantly limited" memory.

A Biden attorney said the president takes classified information seriously but added that they "disagree with a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments in the Special Counsel’s report. Nonetheless, the most important decision the Special Counsel made—that no charges are warranted—is firmly based on the facts and evidence."

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