By Alan Fram
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration wants Congress to provide $6.4 billion to pay for an initial U.S. response to The Russian invasion of Ukrainemuch of it for military and humanitarian aid in the region, two people familiar with the request said on Friday.
Most of the money would go to the Defense and State Departments and the US Agency for International Development, which distributes civilian foreign aid, one of the people said. Smaller amounts would go to the Treasury and Commerce Departments, whose main role in the Ukraine crisis will be to apply sanctions against Russia, its financial institutions, state-owned companies and leaders, including President Vladimir Putin.
The request, which the White House and other administration officials outlined to congressional aides on a conference call, provides a first look at the costs that U.S. taxpayers could bear as a result of the attack on the Russia against its western neighbour. These assaults were in their second full day on Friday as Russian forces pounded Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
The $6.4 billion was lower than the “well over $10 billion” figure Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told reporters he was expecting earlier Friday.
But the two people who described the phone call said it seemed clear the $6.4 billion figure could change depending on events in Ukraine. And Coons, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid and State Department spending, had framed his figure by calling it “an initial estimate.”
A person familiar with Friday’s call said the defense money was primarily intended to help NATO countries west of Russia. The phone call between the administration and congressional officials was described on condition of anonymity because people were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Coons had said he expected the administration to ask to cover the costs of helping the millions of Ukrainian refugees who may flee to Poland and neighboring NATO countries and supporting the armed forces of those country.
He also appeared to suggest that US aid to Ukraine could continue if it came back to Russian forces, saying there was “strong enthusiasm” to provide money for resupply, training and “everything other necessary and appropriate covert and overt support for the Ukrainian resistance”. ”
Coons said the money would also cover US sanctions monitoring and enforcement expenses against Russia and Pentagon bills for deploying the additional 7,000 US troops who President Joe Biden ordered to be sent to Europe.
“I expect there will be well over $10 billion in additional demand,” Coons told reporters, calling it a “first estimate.”
Republican lawmakers would seem likely to strongly back the money to help Ukraine and counter Russia, and Coons said he thinks the request would have strong bipartisan support. Spokespersons for the leading Republicans did not immediately return requests for comment.
Coons spoke after returning from a long trip to Germany, Poland and Lithuania, where he and other members of Congress discussed the crisis with European leaders.
Biden is expected to address the invasion during his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday.
Lawmakers, back from a break, plan to focus next week on drafting bipartisan legislation funding federal agencies for the rest of this year. Leaders hope to approve the roughly $1.5 trillion measure by March 11, when the money to temporarily fund the government runs out.
Initially, it was unclear whether Ukraine’s money would be part of this broader budget legislation, if not how quickly it would move and whether lawmakers would attempt to impose additional US sanctions on Russia.
Democrats are ‘considering’ including aid to Ukraine and additional funds for COVID-19 relief in the government-wide budget bill, said an aide to the congressional leadership who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the process publicly.
Earlier this week, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, said the administration expected to need at least 1 billion for humanitarian assistance and another $1 billion in loan guarantees for economic support.
As lawmakers try to wrap up budget work, administration officials have already told Congress informally that they would like an additional $30 billion to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This would include money for vaccines, tests and care coverage for the uninsured.
This proposal has drawn strong opposition from the GOP and is expected to face a difficult climb to survive. Republicans say the administration should instead use unspent funds from already enacted multi-trillion COVID-19 relief measures.
PA Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.