Congress faces shutdown crunch time amid Ukraine crisis
Lawmakers are racing to lock down a deal to fund the government and provide billions in new aid tied to Ukraine as they barrel toward an end-of-the-week shutdown deadline.
Negotiators worked through the weekend and are aiming to file the massive bill on Tuesday, a leadership aide confirmed to The Hill.
“I believe both sides are close, very close, to arriving at an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said about the talks.
Congress is facing a time crunch as lawmakers rush to meet Friday night’s deadline to get a bill to President Biden’s desk and avoid a government shutdown.
The House is aiming to be able to vote on the yet-to-be-unveiled bill Wednesday, the aide added. The Senate, meanwhile, is juggling a midweek retreat, which both parties are holding on Wednesday.
That leaves the Senate little time to clear the bill over potential procedural and political hurdles. Because the chamber will have just days to pass the bill, they would need a deal with all 100 senators to speed up the legislation in order to meet the Friday night deadline.
If they aren’t able to hit the deadline, lawmakers would need to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR), which would continue current funding levels, to buy themselves more time and avoid a shutdown. Leadership isn’t ruling out the possibility but note if it happens they expect it to be days long.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a letter to her caucus over the weekend that the massive bill would include the $10 billion request from the administration for aid to Ukraine.
But some Republicans are pushing for separating the government funding from the help for the beleaguered nation.
“In the coming days Congress will focus on aid to Ukraine. We should consider a standalone Ukraine military aid package to get them the assistance they need as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The Biden administration’s request includes $4.8 billion for the Pentagon to support U.S. troop deployments to NATO countries and to provide additional military equipment to Ukraine. It is also asking for $5 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development for security, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and allies on NATO’s eastern flank.
Lawmakers appear poised to add to that amount. Schumer tagged the Ukraine-related aid that would make it into the funding bill at roughly $12 billion.
A group of Republicans typically vote against government funding bills, but adding Ukraine aid could complicate their political calculus as lawmakers rush to show their support for the nation amid the Russian invasion.
Leadership is hoping that tying Ukraine money to the larger bill could help push it across the finish line before Friday night’s deadline.
“I think that’s going to add a sense of urgency … there’s no question about it,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged members of Congress during a call over the weekend to quickly send them new military equipment, stop buying Russian oil and to establish a no-fly zone, an idea that has sparked bipartisan backlash because enforcing it could involve U.S. forces shooting down Russian planes.
Though lawmakers say they are on the cusp of being to be able to unveil the legislation, they were still negotiating details of the bill Monday night, including trying to iron out final points of contention.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said that they were getting closer to finalizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill. Border wall funding and funding for ICE detention beds are typically a final sticking point.
Another big hurdle was what to do about the administration’s request for $22.5 billion in new coronavirus relief money.
Four sources told The Hill there was an agreement that the coronavirus funding would be fully paid for, in a concession to Republicans. Thune said most of the funding would come from repurposing previously greenlighted money for state and local governments.
They are also looking at including $15 billion total for the coronavirus relief, though the number hasn’t been finalized and Thune and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) cautioned that it could climb as leadership works to finalize the deal.
“There’s ongoing leadership level discussions,” Blunt said about the level of funding.
Republicans are also still working out what amendments they will ask for in exchange for speeding up the spending deal.
A group of conservative senators have indicated that they will ask for a vote related to defunding Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“We are writing to let you know that we will once again not consent to a time agreement that eases passage of a CR or Omnibus that funds these mandates,” the group, led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), wrote.
But Thune indicated that Republicans could also ask for additional votes.
“We’ll see,” Thune said. “The universe is still kind of firming up.”