House Dems Try to Force a Vote on Ukraine Aid

House Dems Try to Force a Vote on Ukraine Aid

Lawmakers are trying discharge petitions, which rarely work.
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Happy Tuesday! Both president Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump are expected to clinch the required number of delegates tonight to secure their parties’ presidential nominations. And with only 237 days to go before the election.… We can sense your excitement.

Here’s what else is happening.

House Dems Try to Force Floor Vote on Ukraine Aid

With billions of dollars in additional aid for Ukraine stuck in congressional limbo given Speaker Mike Johnson’s refusal to allow a vote on a Senate-passed bill, lawmakers on Tuesday formally launched a pair of long-shot attempts to force such a vote.

The plans require 218 House members to sign what’s known as a discharge petition, a maneuver to bypass Johnson and bring legislation to a floor vote.

One petition, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, would force a vote on the $95.3 billion foreign aid package passed by the Senate last month in a 70-29 vote that saw 22 Republicans join with Democrats in support of delivering more funding to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The McGovern petition went live on Tuesday morning and quickly garnered the support of dozens of lawmakers — though the 169 signatures it had by evening was still short of the total needed.

“What we're asking our colleagues — Democrats and Republicans — is to sign the discharge petition that will bring to the floor the Senate national security bipartisan supplemental,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar of California told reporters. “That is the fastest and easiest way to solve this issue.”

It’s unlikely to be fast or easy, though. Democrats hold 213 seats in the House, meaning that they’d need at least five Republicans to cross the aisle — and likely more because progressives may withhold their support in opposition to providing more funding for Israel and the war in Gaza. “I'm not going to sign a discharge petition with Israel aid, that's my problem," Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Axios. Republicans, meanwhile, insist that the package won’t go anywhere without border security measures.

The Democratic effort may also be complicated by the existence of another Ukraine-related discharge petition, sponsored by Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, which also went live Tuesday. Fitzpatrick co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus and his petition would require a vote on a smaller, $66 billion bipartisan aid package negotiated by House centrists that does include some border security provisions, including a policy requiring migrants seeking asylum to stay in Mexico until their immigration court hearing.

“Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who co-sponsored the Fitzpatrick bill, said Tuesday the Democrats' version is dead on arrival and predicted about 150 Republicans and 100 Democrats would support Fitzpatrick's,” CBS News reports.

The Fitzpatrick bill may have bipartisan backing — and the congressman is reportedly working to modify the legislation to broaden its appeal — but as of Tuesday afternoon, it only had 12 signatures, and Aguilar questioned the level of support it could ultimately win. Aguilar added that the Fitzpatrick bill does not include humanitarian aid and would still have to be approved by the Senate. “That could take weeks or months to deliver the critical aid that’s necessary,” he said.

McConnell pushes Johnson for a vote: Democrats continue to call on Johnson to allow the House to take up the Senate bill, insisting that it would pass with at least 300 votes. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been a vocal proponent of assisting Ukraine, again called on the speaker, a fellow Republican, to allow such a vote. Johnson has insisted that securing the southern border with Mexico must come first, though he also helped defeat a bipartisan Senate border security bill.

“I want to encourage the speaker again to allow a vote," McConnell said Tuesday. "Let the House speak on the supplemental that we sent over to them several weeks ago.”

Asked if he supported a House Republican effort to structure some aid to Ukraine as a loan, McConnell added: “The only way to get relief to the Ukrainians and the Israelis quickly is for the House to figure out how to pass the Senate bill. … We don’t have time for all of this. We’ve got a bill that got 70 votes. Give members of the House an opportunity to vote on it. That’s the solution.”

Biden administration announces a new aid package: As the congressional stalemate over a foreign aid package drags on, the Biden administration announced Tuesday that it had found a way to send Ukraine another $300 million worth of weapons under presidential drawdown authority, reportedly the first such assistance since a $250 million package in late December, which was funded the previous year.

“Defense officials said they were able to come up with the funding through savings in long-term contracts with weapons makers, but they described it as a one-time arrangement,” NBC News reports.

Officials also said that the Pentagon needs at least $10 billion more to replenish its stocks of weapons sent to Ukraine.

Inflation a Little Hotter Than Expected in February

Inflation is looking a bit sticky as we head further into 2024.

The consumer price index rose 0.4% from January to February, and 3.2% over the past 12 months, according to government data released Tuesday. The monthly figure was higher than the 0.3% recorded in January, though the increase was expected. The annual rate was also higher than the 3.1% reading in January, but that increase came as a surprise.

Housing and fuel costs played a major role in the persistence of inflationary pressure. Together, the cost of shelter and gasoline accounted for more than 60% of the monthly increase in the overall price index. The price of food, on the other hand, was unchanged, buttressing hopes that the great food inflation that started during the pandemic may finally have come to an end.

The closely watched core CPI number, which strips out volatile food and fuel prices, rose 0.4% on a monthly basis and 3.8% on an annual basis. Both numbers were higher than expected, with the annual reading declining less than expected from the 3.9% rate recorded in January.

The latest data suggest that inflation may be settling in at levels above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target rate, as many economists have warned it might, at least temporarily. Even so, the picture is cloudy, and the longer-term trend still appears to be disinflationary, even if there are bumps along the way.

What the experts are saying: Economist Tuan Nguyen of the consulting firm RSM said the inflation numbers were no surprise given the jump in gasoline prices and what he called “noise” in the housing numbers. “While inflation continues to be sticky, we are not worried about a significant rebound,” he wrote in a research note. “The hotter-than-expected consumer price index in February did not deter the disinflation trend that we have seen for the past six months.”

AllianceBernstein’s Eric Winograd told the Associated Press that the numbers were “a disappointment, but not a disaster,” adding that the “underlying details are more encouraging than the top-line number, which was boosted by a few volatile categories — the type of prices that tend not to repeat month-to-month.”

Some analysts speculated that the report would push Federal Reserve officials to delay stimulative rate cuts into summer. “This will probably be seen as a reason to keep policy on hold a while longer,” said Kathy Jones, Charles Schwab’s chief fixed-income strategist, per Bloomberg. “Through the volatility, the downtrend in inflation seems to be leveling off and the Fed would like to see it continue to move lower before easing rates.”

Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG, said on social media, “This is where the going gets tough for the Federal Reserve,” adding that a pause on rate cuts could extend into the summer months. “The bottom line is that this keeps the Fed on hold in March and May. We are still expecting a cut in June, but that is getting more tenuous. There are participants at the meeting that want to wait for July or later. We still expect only three rate cuts total in 2024.”


Deficit Rises in February

The federal budget deficit increased by $296 billion in February, the Treasury Department reported Tuesday. That brings the total deficit for the 2024 fiscal year, which began in October, to $828 billion.

The monthly deficit was 13% larger than the deficit recorded in February a year ago. Outlays were up by 8%, totaling $567 billion, a record for the month of February. Receipts increased 3% to $271 billion.

The annual deficit is now $106 billion larger than it was for the same five months of the 2023 fiscal year. Both outlays and receipts have hit record highs for this point in the year, with receipts 7% larger at $1.85 trillion, and outlays 9% larger at $2.68 trillion.

The cost of servicing the growing national debt has risen sharply. Interest on Treasury debt totaled $76 billion in February, an increase of 67% compared to a year ago. So far this year, the Treasury has spent $433 billion on interest, compared to $306 billion at the same point in 2023. Treasury officials estimate that interest costs will top $1 trillion for the full fiscal year.

Quote of the Day

“It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I’ve been in Congress. And having talked to former members it’s the worst year in 40, 50 years to be in Congress. ... Instead of having decorum, instead of operating in a professional manner, this place has just devolved into this bickering and nonsense and not really doing the job for the American people.”

– Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, speaking to CNN about his decision to retire early from the House, a move that apparently caught House Speaker Mike Johnson by surprise. When Buck leaves at the end of next week, the Republican majority in the House will shrink to 218 seats compared with 213 for Democrats.

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