The Senate advances $95 billion in Ukraine, Israel’s aid package

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US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during the weekly Democratic Caucus lunch press conference at the US Capitol building in Washington, US, February 6, 2024.

Amanda Andrade-rhoades | Reuters

Senators on Thursday advanced a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, gathering momentum for a funding package that has been a constant concern in federal budget negotiations over the past few months.

By a final count of 67-32, senators voted to begin debate on a $95 billion aid package to fund Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid in war-torn regions.

“This is a good first step,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said on the Senate floor after the vote.

The bill still has an uphill battle as senators are now starting to discuss changes with just a few days until they have the right to adjourn for two weeks.

If senators delay talks for a two-week recess, the aid package is likely to be shelved as budget talks take the front seat, with government shutdown dates looming. March 1 and March 8.

The $95 billion bill was a stripped-down version of the Senate’s bipartisan $118 billion funding package, which was released Sunday.

The first, more expensive bill failed Wednesday in a 49-50 vote after days of Republican opposition to border security provisions.

Expecting the first vote to fail, Schumer devised a plan to force a vote on the new $95 billion version of the bill, this time removing the controversial border security elements.

“For all those Republicans who first said, ‘We want it with an end,’ and now say, ‘We want it without an end,’ they got both options,” Schumer said Wednesday morning.

The success of Thursday’s vote is a hopeful next step for an issue that has paralyzed budget talks in the past.

Aid from Ukraine was at the center of a very dramatic saga in September. House Republican hardliners blocked a budget deal against $6 billion in aid to Ukraine. At the time, former Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, agreed to defund Ukraine and pass a short-term government shutdown bill. Days later, McCarthy was fired.

Since then, Congress has continued to keep the government’s lights on with short-term, stopgap budget measures, known as continuing resolutions, passed quickly at several different times over the past year. ‘ left to avoid a government shutdown.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has been firm in his stance on continuing resolutions.

“I think working with CRs and shutting down the government is a dereliction of duty,” he said in December.

However, relentless congressional disagreements have forced Johnson’s hand. In January, he helped pass another continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown, which will now end in early March.

With about a month until that short-term budget dries up, passing the aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan could leave one less thing for lawmakers to fight over and help pave the way for towards clearing a long-term budget.

But Johnson’s disdain for continuing resolutions may not be enough to outweigh his desire to torpedo the Senate’s foreign aid bill. Even if senators can pass the $95 billion bill, House Republicans have not determined which way they will move on it.

“The House will review the Senate result,” Johnson’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “The Speaker believes that the House should review each individual case on its merits.”

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