Biden Calls for Immediate House Vote on Ukraine Aid

Biden Calls for Immediate House Vote on Ukraine Aid

Biden called for an immediate House vote on the aid bill.
Reuters
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Happy Mardi Gras! Laissez les bon temps rouler! Louisiana-born Speaker Mike Johnson may favor letting the good times roll, but he doesn’t look ready to roll on assistance for Ukraine and Israel. Here’s the latest.

‘Pass This Bill Immediately’: Biden Presses House to Vote on Ukraine Aid Package

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an urgent and impassioned call for Speaker Mike Johnson to let the House immediately take up a $95.3 billion package of aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after the Senate passed the bill early in the morning.

“There’s no question that if the Senate bill was put on the floor in the House of Representatives, it would pass,” Biden said in afternoon remarks from The White House. “It would pass, and the speaker knows that. So I call on the speaker to let the full House speak its mind and not allow a minority of the most extreme voices in the House to block this bill even from being voted on.”

Biden addressed House Republicans who oppose providing further aid to Ukraine, saying the funding is imperative to counter the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won’t limit himself just to Ukraine, and the cost for America and our allies and partners is going to rise,” the president said. “For Republicans in Congress who think they can oppose funding for Ukraine and not be held accountable, history is watching.”

Biden said the stakes had risen because of former president Donald Trump’s recent comment that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to any NATO country that falls short of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense.

Biden blasted those comments and what he described as Trump’s “transactional” view of NATO. “For God’s sake, it’s dumb, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous, it’s un-American,” he said.

Biden also made a point of telling the public that the funds for Ukraine would be spent domestically, replenishing weapons stockpiles “made right here in America by American workers.”

Opposition in the House: The Senate vote saw 22 Republicans join nearly all Democrats in support of the measure, which passed by a 70-29 margin after an all-night session.

“These past few months have been a great test for the U.S. Senate to see if we could escape the centrifugal pull of partisanship and summon the will to defend Western democracy when it mattered most,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “Today, the Senate has resoundingly passed the test.”

But even before the Senate’s bipartisan vote, Johnson indicated that he likely would not allow the House to take up the bill, which Trump and many House Republicans oppose. Johnson criticized the Senate plan for excluding border security provisions and his position on the foreign aid bill stands in stark contrast to that of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly urged his conference to stand with Ukraine. Senate Republicans last week rejected a bipartisan border deal — a compromise that Johnson had also variously criticized as insufficient and unnecessary, contributing to its quick demise.

“House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border,” Johnson said in a statement Monday evening, adding that the Senate “should have gone back to the drawing board” instead of delivering a bill that is “silent on the most pressing issue facing our country.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who spent months negotiating the Senate’s bipartisan border deal, expressed frustration over Johnson’s stance.

“the speaker said he wouldn’t pass ukraine funding without a border deal and we got a deal and then he killed the deal because he said we didn’t need a deal and now he says he won’t pass our ukraine funding bill bc it doesn’t include a border deal,” Murphy said in a social media post devoid of capitalization, adding “honestly” and “wtf.”

The bottom line: Johnson now faces a crucial decision and immense pressure. He insisted that “the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” suggesting that he is not taking up the Senate bill anytime soon. He is, however, trying again to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tonight.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope to force Johnson’s hand via a discharge petition, which would require at least four Republicans to sign on — or potentially more, given some Democratic opposition to additional funding for Israel. Any House action on the aid bill under this process reportedly is unlikely to happen until the end of the month.

Inflation Cools Again, but Not as Much as Expected

Inflation was a bit hotter than expected in January, as consumer prices rose 3.1% on an annual basis, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. Analysts had been forecasting a 2.9% pace, but housing and food costs helped push the overall consumer price index up more than expected.

On a monthly basis, prices rose 0.3%, versus expectations of 0.2%. Housing costs accounted for more than two-thirds of the increase.

The consumer price index has now increased by 3% or more on an annual basis for 34 months in a row — the longest streak in roughly three decades. Even so, the January result shows that the general downward trend in inflation continues. The January inflation rate was below the 3.4% rate recorded in December, and sharply lower than the 6.4% increase seen in January 2023.

Highlighting the trend: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday that the latest data show that the U.S. has made “significant progress” in the battle to bring inflation under control. “Overall inflation is down by around two-thirds since its peak; the prices of key household expenses like gas, egg[s] and airline fares have gone down,” she said.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, also cited the progress made in the battle against inflation over the last two years. “The January report on consumer prices was disappointing but doesn’t change the trend of decelerating inflation nor prospects for inflation to return to the Fed’s target by the 2nd half of the year,” he said. “Indeed, inflation is already below the Fed’s target save for the cost of shelter.”

Worries persist: Traders on Wall Street sent stocks sharply lower as they focused on the Federal Reserve’s possible reaction to the news. Investors have been hoping the Fed will start to cut interest rates this spring, but the higher-than-expected inflation numbers suggest that the rate cuts could be delayed until later in the year.

“We’re being reminded that inflation is not this easy path down to 2 [percent]. I just think this gives extra reason for the Fed to just take their time,” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Financial Group, told The Washington Post.

Higher interest rates aren’t the only concern. Former Obama administration economist Jason Furman noted that core inflation — a metric closely watched by the Fed that excludes volatile food and fuel prices — rose a higher-than-expected 0.4% in January, for a 3.9% annual rate, driven by the cost of housing, car insurance and medical care. (See the chart from The Wall Street Journal below.) Inflationary pressure appears to be quite sticky in the service sector and has shown signs of accelerating in recent months, even as goods inflation has turned negative.

Plenty of ordinary consumers are worried, as well. While some may welcome the news that overall inflation continues to slow, many are still struggling with the high prices that the recent inflationary episode has left in its wake. “Consumers are still feeling the pinch of higher prices for the things they buy most often,” Bright MLS Chief Economist Lisa Sturtevant told CBS News. “Inflation is generally moving in the right direction, down significantly from its peak of 9.1% in June 2022. But it's important to remember that a lower inflation rate does not mean that prices of most things are falling — rather, it simply means that prices are rising more slowly.”

Still, some economists say the latest data should be taken with a grain of salt. Former IMF economist Robin Brooks said the January numbers look worse than they really are and simply reflect price adjustments that take place at the beginning of each year. “These start-of-year effects are noise,” he wrote on social media. “The Fed should ignore them.”

The bottom line: Inflation continues to fall, but there are bumps along the disinflationary path, as expected. Those concerned about a possible reignition of inflation — a group that almost certainly includes policymakers at the Fed — will be keeping a particularly sharp eye on the cost of services in the coming months. Even if inflation remains contained, interest rates will probably stay high for longer in 2024, with early spring rate cuts now looking less likely than ever.

e57bd8b1-bdcd-40be-b6cf-59af6c8854e4.png?r=1945492911


Send your feedback to yrosenberg@thefiscaltimes.com. And please encourage your friends to sign up here for their own copy of this newsletter.


Fiscal News Roundup

Views and Analysis