No further support
Ukraine is a loser in the US shutdown
October 1, 2023, 7:14 a.m
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The US Congress only has a few hours to prevent a shutdown. This barely succeeds. Nobody is really happy with the compromise. But it is causing considerable concern, especially in Kiev.
At the last moment, the US Congress prevented an impending government shutdown – but Ukraine is paying the price for the agreement. The interim budget passed on Saturday evening (local time) does not contain any further support for Kiev. Just a few hours before the deadline, the Senate voted for the bill with a bipartisan majority after the House of Representatives, thereby averting a so-called shutdown.
However, the budget only grants a short delay until mid-November – the dispute over a new federal budget between the Democrats and the Republicans has only been postponed. US President Joe Biden signed the law shortly after the vote. But the Democrat also found words of warning: “Under no circumstances can we allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted.”
The agreement brings a reprieve – but also many losers. The term of the budget passed by the US Congress at the end of last year ended at the end of this month – on Sunday night. By then, a new federal budget had to be approved in order to avert insolvency. The political wrangling repeats itself every year. As a rule, Congress makes do with passing an interim budget – as was the case this time. A shutdown means that millions of government employees will no longer receive their salaries – many of them will then have to go on compulsory leave. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck and don’t have much savings.
Showdown in Congress
With the interim budget, ultra-radical Republicans in the USA in particular are setting the tone – at least when it comes to the question of further support for Ukraine, which is being attacked by Russia. They reject this. Most recently, it was mainly the deeply divided Republicans in the House of Representatives who tore each other apart in the dispute over a new budget, thereby embarrassing the chamber’s chairman, Kevin McCarthy. They have a slim majority in the House of Representatives, and Biden’s Democrats have a majority in the Senate. On Saturday morning, McCarthy suddenly pulled out the draft interim budget and turned the tide. At first it seemed as if a shutdown could no longer be prevented.
The interim budget does not contain any aid to Ukraine, but neither does it contain the extensive cuts that the extremes in McCarthy’s party had demanded. It continues to finance government business for 45 days at the level of the previous federal budget. With his surprising move, McCarthy may have offended the ultra-radicals. McCarthy must therefore expect that his opponents will now want to drive him out of office. In the meantime, they have given the impression that they want a shutdown – for the sake of chaos.
The Democrats are celebrating the interim budget as an example of the ability to compromise in Congress. But it is also a fact that they were taken by surprise by the Republican McCarthy. This would have passed the buck to them for a shutdown if they had opposed the draft law. Biden’s Democrats definitely didn’t want to give the impression that help for Ukraine was more important to them than the paychecks of millions of people in the USA. In the end, it was the Democrats who used their votes to prevent a government shutdown – but at a high price.
Support is not a given
But the crime in the US Congress is already having consequences for Ukraine. The United States is considered Ukraine’s most important ally in the fight against Russian invasion. Since the start of the war, Biden’s government has provided well over $40 billion in military aid alone. Biden asked Congress in the summer for billions more for Ukraine – he demanded around $13 billion in military aid alone to ensure support for Kiev until the beginning of 2024. There were also billions more for economic and humanitarian support.
The fact that no aid for Ukraine is included in the interim budget does not mean that Kiev will immediately stop receiving support from the USA. However, the funds approved so far are slowly running out. The showdown in the US Congress is already having consequences – because it sends a message to Russia.
It is a signal of weakness, of a lack of determination on the part of the USA, warned military analyst for the US broadcaster CNN, Cedric Leighton. There are also fears in the USA that the Europeans could reduce their support if the USA takes hesitant action. A good year before the presidential election, it is clear how controversial the issue of Ukraine is now being discussed in the USA – and that the Americans’ unconditional support is by no means a given.
Congress must act quickly
So Congress will have to approve new aid soon. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders have agreed to fight for it. “I am confident that the Senate will pass additional urgent aid to Ukraine later this year,” Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote. There is a majority for this in the US Congress – even if support is dwindling, especially among the Republicans.
In the House of Representatives, however, it depends on Republican McCarthy to even bring a law to a vote. It is difficult to predict how he will behave under pressure from the right-wing extremists in his group. Most recently, in several statements, he avoided committing to further US aid for the country. When Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for further support in the US Congress last week, McCarthy prevented the Ukrainian president from speaking to both houses of Congress.