US Aid: Any Foreseeable Problems?
By adopting a record 45 billion dollar package of emergency military and economic aid to Ukraine at the end of last year, the United States of America once again confirmed its role as Ukraine’s main partner in resisting Russian aggression (before that, US aid already amounted to about 50 billion dollars). The approval of this package became a kind of “safety net” for Joe Biden’s administration in view of the possible negative consequences of opposition to its efforts in the Ukrainian vector on the part of Republicans, primarily due to changes to budget procedures.
Can such fears be exaggerated, especially considering the presence of staunch supporters of Ukraine in the ranks of Republicans in both parts of Congress? In particular, on Sunday, newly elected chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul stated that the majority of Republicans are in favor of providing aid to Ukraine and called for the delivery of Abrams heavy tanks to our country. Let’s try to figure it out.
On January 7, the US House of Representatives elected a new speaker in the longest running vote in the last 164 years. Kevin McCarthy managed to win only thanks to significant concessions to the far right part of his party members, that significantly limit his ability to effectively manage the Republican faction (in particular, he was forced to accept the right of any congressman to demand a vote of confidence in the speaker and allowed the far right to take leadership positions in a number of key committees of the House of Representatives). The fragile nature of the Republican majority in the House (nine seats) forces McCarthy to pay close attention to the demands of the ultraconservatives, despite their relatively small number, which requires the mobilization of all the faction’s available votes in order to make the necessary decisions.
Discussion on the US national debt ceiling, that is the legally defined limit on the US government borrowing to pay its current financial obligations, will in the near future show how big their influence on the legislative program and the functioning of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives will be.
Last Thursday, this limit which was set at 31.4 trillion dollars in 2021, was exhausted. Judging by the statements of US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, the “extraordinary measures” taken by her department are able to keep the situation under control and prevent default until early June this year. During this time, the Congress must legislate to raise the national debt ceiling in order to avoid destabilization of markets and serious negative consequences for the American and global economy, similar to those that occurred in 2011, when exceeding the debt limit caused crisis economic phenomena that lasted for several months.
Until now, the raising of the ceiling of the United States national debt happened quite often and in many cases, this act was accompanied by the legislative adoption of measures aimed at reducing the deficit of the federal budget. The specificity of the current situation lies in the degree of determination of a group of ultraconservative Republican congressmen to condition an increase in the debt limit with a decrease in government spending: for this, they declare their readiness to torpedo any options for exiting the crisis situation that would contradict their requirements. This, in turn, sharply narrows the margin of maneuver of the speaker of the chamber and the moderate part of the Republican faction to reach a compromise with the Democrats, given the popularity of the views of the radicals among the party “core.”
In view of the aggravation of political passions on financial issues in the US Congress, a completely justified question arises: “Can aid for Ukraine be affected in this context?” Virtually all American colleagues with whom I managed to consult on this matter are of the opinion that the main blow of the Republicans in the framework of the debate on the debt ceiling will be directed against the expansion of the social programs of the Biden administration. The most ardent opponents even declare their intention to introduce changes to such fundamental for American society programs as social security and medical assistance for the most vulnerable sections of the population.
However, the changes that took place in the House of Representatives really increased the risks of complicating the process of providing aid to Ukraine, since it is the House that plays a leading role in determining the amount and directions of US government funding. We definitely need to be ready to introduce stricter control over the US allocation of funds for assistance to Ukraine, as well as to verify the use of financial and other resources received by our state in the previous period. This position is held by almost the entire Republican faction in the House of Representatives (including those who constantly defend the importance of supporting Ukraine in resisting Russian aggression) led by its leadership: after the speech of the President of Ukraine in the US Congress, McCarthy repeated his pre-election statement that the Republicans “will not give carte blanche to Ukraine.”
The point about the need to strengthen control over the use of American taxpayers’ money, which is also facilitated by economic instability, could be treated relatively calmly if it were not for two circumstances.
First, it may cause delays in the delivery of American weapons and equipment to Ukraine which will negatively affect the ability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to implement strategic and tactical tasks in this critical period of the war.
Second, among the main promoters of “enhanced monitoring” are politicians close to Donald Trump and who, like him, are in favor of reducing or even halting aid to Ukraine. In particular, among them is the scandalously famous congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (she is the author of the draft resolution with the demand to increase control over the provision of military and economic aid to Ukraine) who promised her voters that “Ukraine will not receive another cent.” Her colleague from ultra-conservative Freedom Union, Congressman Warren Davidson, said: “We need to focus on containing the war, not escalating it. [By providing aid to Ukraine. — O.Sh.], we show that we agree with the increase in the scale of the war. I reckon we need to send a different message.” Accordingly, he is categorically against providing additional aid to Ukraine. Influential Republican Charles Roy called for a debate on the continued support of the United States to Ukraine. In this context, it is also necessary to note the appearance in the Senate of newly appointed Republican Senator James Vance whose position on the Ukrainian problem is identical to that of the Trumpists in the House.
Currently, anti-sympathizers of Ukraine in Congress are restrained by the fact that, according to the report of a December sociological study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in the United States, “support for the current policy of economic and military aid to Kyiv remains strong:” 65-66 percent. At the same time, their behavior will be influenced by the fact that support for aid to Ukraine is the lowest among supporters of the Republican Party and has a tendency to further decrease: 55 percent (July — 68 percent) and 50 percent (July — 64 percent) of the Republicans approve of providing arms and economic aid to Ukraine respectively.
The position of the party faction in the Senate is extremely important, the majority of which, led by leader of the Senate minority Mitchell McConnell, consistently supported Ukraine and even demanded more decisive and timely actions from the current American administration. The significance of the behavior of Senate Republicans in the next two years will be even more essential: their votes will be needed to neutralize provisions aimed at delaying or curtailing aid to Ukraine and may be included in the budget bills of the House of Representatives under pressure from far-right congressmen.
In general, one can agree with those American experts who believe that for the near future, bipartisan support for Ukraine in the US Congress will remain stable, despite the likely introduction of more intrusive mechanisms of control over the provision of all types of aid. The adoption of the above-mentioned unprecedented aid package of 45 billion dollars at the end of the work of the Congress of the preliminary convocation, will facilitate its receipt by the end of the current financial year (September 30).
Besides, judging by the reports of the American media, the Biden administration does not expect additional allocations for aid to Ukraine this year, and the process of allocating sufficient funds in the future looks more complicated. Among other things, the Ukrainian leadership apparently received such a signal during the CIA director’s last visit to Kyiv.
The development of the situation according to a similar, dangerous for us scenario seems likely but not fatal. The possibility of changing the trajectory will depend on the consistency and strategic certainty of Ukrainian policy and the effectiveness of relations with the Republican part of Congress of the Biden administration, and most importantly, on the readiness of congressional Republicans to prevent the implementation of ultraconservatives’ destructive intentions to curtail aid to Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression.
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