The Senate has approved roughly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Senate has voted 86-11 to approve almost $40 billion in aid to Ukraine today. That's about triple the size of the last assistance package. The House has already passed the bill, so now it goes to President Biden for his signature. The latest funding package includes more money for weapons for Ukraine. Congress also approved more humanitarian and food aid, and that's meant to help not just Ukrainians but also the countries accepting refugees from the war, even those countries that typically rely on Ukraine's vast agricultural system for food.
NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins me from Capitol Hill. Hey there.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Hey. So $40 billion - sounds like a lot of money, is a lot of money. How does it fit in with other spending bills Congress has passed?
SNELL: Well, like you said, this is really huge. And it is - I mean, part of the reason it is really big is it's meant to last through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. There are a few important things to know about how funding like this specifically works, though. Congress passed the money as supplemental or emergency spending. Now, that's important because it means it doesn't need to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases. And it also means that it doesn't have any impact on other spending in Congress. It's a totally separate issue.
So it isn't uncommon for Congress to fund things that are fast moving or unpredictable this way. Think about things like natural disasters or global humanitarian crises or even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
KELLY: Speaking of which, how does this money compare to those wars?
SNELL: Well, I've spoken to lawmakers and security experts about it, and they say that, frankly, this really can't compare because it's a really different way of funding things. The U.S. is not involved in this war with troops on the ground like the U.S. was in, say, Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's a really big differentiation because committing troops would make it dramatically more expensive.
But, you know, the funding does mark a really big uptick in money for Ukraine. One expert told me the U.S. was spending about $300 million a year in Ukraine before Russia invaded. This bill brings the total to more than $100 million a day.
KELLY: Wow, $100 million a day. Now, they wanted to get this package passed days ago. One senator held up the train. How was that logjam undone?
SNELL: Yeah, it was held up by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. He often is the person who is in charge of holding things up in the Senate. You know, he was demanding a vote on an amendment to assign a special inspector general to oversee all of that spending. He gave this big speech this week explaining his objections where he said that he is sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause, but he doesn't think Congress should be sending huge sums of money this way.
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RAND PAUL: But if Congress were honest, they'd take the money from elsewhere in the budget or ask Americans to pay higher taxes or, heaven forbid, loan the money to Ukraine instead of giving it to Ukraine.
SNELL: You know, he is one of a relatively small number of Republicans who oppose the spending. And the Senate was able to get around his objections just by waiting him out.
KELLY: Back just to that vote tally - 86-11. I'm struggling to think of almost anything the Senate passes by a vote of 86-11, the total bipartisan support for Ukraine aid. What does that tell us about where Congress is right now?
SNELL: It kind of speaks to how far apart the two parties are in their approach to the future of the country. It's because they're mostly divided on domestic programs. You know, that's not uncommon in an election year, and that's what this is. But, you know, this has been a theme of Congress for many years now. The two parties have been increasingly unwilling to meet in the middle and virtually on anything, any domestic policy. And it's a trend that's becoming more entrenched.
KELLY: And in just 30 seconds, Kelsey, what about COVID aid while I've got you?
SNELL: Well, that is still in limbo. And the White House is warning that the longer Congress waits, the less likely it is that the U.S. will be able to respond to, you know, another wave with therapeutics and vaccines, so they say they must act quickly.
KELLY: Kelsey Snell on Capitol Hill, thank you.
SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.