Biden to Congress: Pass the Foreign Aid Bill ASAP

Biden to Congress: Pass the Foreign Aid Bill ASAP

Biden and Johnson on Friday
USA Today Network
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, March 15, 2024

Happy Friday! The ides of March are come. We hope you make it though the day peacefully. Here’s what’s happening.

Biden to Congress: Pass the Foreign Aid Bill ASAP

At an early St. Patrick’s Day event with the Irish prime minister and officials including House Speaker Mike Johnson, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass the foreign aid package that would provide $95 billion for U.S. allies, including Ukraine and Israel.

“I urge you to send me the national security bill now,” Biden said, referring to the legislation that has been passed by the Senate but held up in the House by Johnson. “The bill includes funding for Ukraine and Israel and maybe equally important, humanitarian assistance to Gaza. They badly, badly need it. And it sends a clear message that America stands up for freedom and we bow down to no one, to no one in the world.”

Biden also called on lawmakers to sustain the fight against Russian aggression. “I continue to urge every member in this room to stand up to Vladimir Putin. He’s a thug,” he said, drawing a round of applause from the attendees, including Johnson.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach, or prime minister, echoed Biden’s call for aid. “Ukraine must not fall, and together we need to stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he said. Although Ireland maintains a policy of neutrality and is not a member of NATO, it has provided support for Ukraine, including more than $200 million in humanitarian assistance.

Last fall, Reada Cronin, a member of the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament, explained the country’s stance on Ukraine, comparing it to the historical relationship between Ireland and the U.K. “While we are militarily neutral, Ireland is fully supportive of Ukraine and its right to defend itself,” she told Al Jazeera. “We had a belligerent neighbor and we can see a lot of commonalities with Ukraine. We want to try to help them as much as we can while maintaining our neutrality.”

A bleak outlook: U.S. officials are warning that if Congress fails to provide more aid for Ukraine quickly, the results could be dire, ranging from enormous Ukrainian casualties to a total breakdown in the country’s defensive lines amid a Russian onslaught.

“This doesn’t go well for Ukraine over time without a supplemental, and it could lead to potential collapse,” a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post.

The lack of anti-aircraft weapons is making the daily Russian drone and missile attacks more deadly, and a shortage of artillery shells is forcing Ukrainian troops to ration, officials say. Russia possesses an enormous advantage when it comes to the production of military basics like artillery shells, an imbalance exacerbated by the halt of American assistance and the failure of European allies to deliver some of the supplies they pledged to provide this year.

Earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Ukraine is already starting to lose some of the gains it has made against Russian forces. “Ukraine's retreat from Avdiivka and their struggle to stave off further territorial losses in the past few weeks have exposed the erosion of Ukraine's military capabilities with the declining availability of external military aid,” she told lawmakers. “Without that assistance, it is hard to imagine how Ukraine will be able to maintain the extremely hard-fought advances it has made against the Russians.”

Quote of the Day

“In a time of divided government, when we only control one-half of one-third of the federal government and we have a two-vote majority, we know that we’re not going to get the bills that are our preference.”

– House Speaker Mike Johnson, as quoted by Punchbowl News, warning lawmakers at the House Republican retreat this week that they aren’t likely to see the policy victories they’d want in the six annual spending bills being finalized ahead of a March 22 deadline.

As that deadline approaches, appropriators are reportedly finding it difficult — or maybe impossible — to reach bipartisan agreement on funding for the Department of Homeland Security. They reportedly may instead look to fund the department via a continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year or buy more time for talks on that one bill while Congress takes up the five other spending bills.

Editorial of the Day: A Way to Save Medicare Billions

The Washington Post Editorial Board highlights a bill called the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act, which the passed the House in a 320-71 vote in December. “It actually would end a longstanding, but irrational, disparity in Medicare reimbursements for certain treatments, depending on whether they are administered in doctors’ offices or hospitals,” the board explains in an editorial. “The savings would be more than $3.7 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And beneficiaries’ co-payments would go down, too — by $40 a visit.”

The bill seeks to create site-neutral payments, closing the current disparity in pricing for drugs depending on where they are delivered. “Under current law, Medicare pays two to three times as much for these treatments if they are given in a hospital rather than a doctor’s office,” the editorial explains. “The medicines and the means of administering them are the same; only the price is different.”

The existing rules have helped fuel a push by hospitals to roll up medical practices and start charging the higher prices they are allowed, with that consolidation driving up system-wide costs.

“To be sure, $3.7 billion in savings for Medicare over a decade seems small compared with the program’s total projected hospital spending of more than $2.7 trillion,” the Post editors note. “Yet hospitals have been fighting the change furiously, no doubt because of the precedent it would set for other medical services. In fact, that is exactly what should happen.”

If site-neutral payments were required for the dozens of services that currently cost more at hospitals than in doctor’s offices, Medicare would save about $150 billion over 10 years.

The Senate still has to pass the bill, and some senators are reportedly concerned that the plan would hurt rural hospitals at a time when those areas already face shortages of care. The Post’s editors argue that’s not a reason to block this bill: “If the needs of rural hospitals are the main impediment to passing a sensible site-neutral policy for Medicare, then they should be subsidized straightforwardly.”

Read the full editorial at The Washington Post.

Numbers of the Day: $163 Million and 316,715

A new report from the Wesleyan Media Project says that Americans are seeing a record number of congressional campaign ads: “As of March 10, $163 million had been spent this election cycle on broadcast television advertising in House and Senate races, amounting to over 300,000 ad airings.”

The report says that the 316,715 ads aired so far is 28% higher than the 2022 campaign at the same point and more than 50,000 airings more than the record set in 2018.

Fun Fact Friday: Lobster Love

We learned from a 9-year-old this week that lobsters pee out of their faces to communicate with each other, with the urine containing pheromone signals for purposes of mating or fighting. We’re not even going to try to connect that to anything fiscal.

Have a great weekend!

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