Hill leaders strike deal on nearly $40B in Ukraine aid

Democrats’ decision to decouple the pandemic aid is a painful one for some in the party who have worried about how else they can force Republicans to support a Covid aid plan that’s languished for months in Congress. But other Democrats have been publicly and privately warning their leadership not to delay the US aid to Ukraine as the brutal Russian assault intensifies.

Senate Democrats had hoped to combine the Covid and Ukraine bills, but chamber Republicans signaled they would not provide the votes to clear an all-but-guaranteed filibuster of that two-part proposal. Going forward with just Ukraine aid complicates the future of the $10 billion coronavirus legislation, which Senate Republicans blocked over Biden’s plans to lift pandemic-era border restrictions.

“It doesn’t help. Putting those two together would have been a powerful piece of legislation,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). He said that the impasse over Biden’s plans to lift migration constraints is still stymieing a bipartisan solution on a coronavirus aid bill.

Biden said in his statement that he wants to see Congress move swiftly on the Covid aid plan after finishing its Ukraine aid work.

The uncertainty ahead of the pandemic funds is a troubling scenario for the Biden administration, which is trying to stock up on vaccines for millions of booster shots that will be needed in the fall to prepare for a potential winter surge.

The US government is also on the hook for other pandemic-related expenses, including a $5 billion Pfizer contract to develop Covid pill doses. It’s not clear exactly when that money is required to be paid, but some Democrats are saying privately that Congress can’t wait for the government funding fight in September, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

Still, senior Democrats stressed that the Ukraine aid was needed more urgently, as Russian forces continue to escalate their assault.

Biden is still hopeful that a bill providing billions for treatment, tests and vaccines can clear Congress in the coming weeks, as the president and his administration warn that new variants and a wave could tax the country’s national resources.

The Ukraine package totals several billion dollars more than the White House’s initial request. Top Democrats and Republicans agreed to an extra $6.8 billion beyond what Biden requested, equally split between military and humanitarian aid. The deal was first reported by Punchbowl News.

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