Why Can’t We Agree on Foreign Aid?

Foreign Policy Brief #121 | By: Arvind Salem| February 21, 2024
Featured Photo taken from: www.usatoday.com

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With wars continuing to rage on in Ukraine and Gaza, the United States has continued to be largely uninvolved militarily in these conflicts. However, the US has funded both Ukraine and Israel to help them in their war. Negotiations surrounding the latest round of aid have been particularly contentious and offer a prime example of the much-maligned partisan gridlock that plagues the country. Despite the fact that there is considerable bipartisan support for priorities such as funding Ukraine and Israel, intransigent sections of both parties currently make a compromise impossible.

On February 13th, The Senate passed a $95 billion package covering foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, and countering China. The largest chunk is going to Ukraine, with $60 billion out of the $95 billion, being allocated to help Ukraine. This includes help for its military, including through funding weapons and support services, as well as money to keep the government afloat and help Ukraine’s private sector. Another $14 billion is going to Israel, primarily to help their air and missile defenses. On the flip side, the legislation contains $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for civilians in war-torn areas: most prominently Gaza and the West Bank, but also covering Ukraine and other war zones. This occurs as many in Gaza lack basic necessities and are in desperate need of aid. Additionally, roughly $2 billion will go to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific by replenishing weapons that the U.S. previously provided to Taiwan. While this package has passed the Senate, it faces an uphill battle in the House, as Speaker Mike Johnson is refusing to hold a vote on it due to its lack of border security provisions.

Policy Analysis:

This aid is much needed, especially in Ukraine, as at the end of 2023, the government had a $43 billion budget deficit. Since the start of 2024, The United States has been unable to give any aid to help Ukraine hold off against Russia, as any new foreign aid would require congressional approval. Republicans in control of the House primarily oppose the bill not because they disagree with its express provisions, but because it does not include sufficient funding for border security.

However, especially regarding Israel, this foreign aid bill has exposed tensions within the Democratic coalition surrounding U.S. policy towards Israel: especially between Progressive lawmakers that are less inclined to support Israel than their moderate counterparts. In the very possible situation that moderate Republicans join Democrats, as they did in the Senate, Progressive support wouldn’t be absolutely necessary to pass the bill. However, a lack of Progressive support, would complicate Democrat efforts to force the issue through a discharge petition, where legislation is essentially rammed through the House through a majority vote (218 members). Of course, Speaker Mike Johnson will be extremely reluctant to force the issue to a vote, as getting attacked by some moderates for inaction is a much better outcome for him than the very real possibility of him getting impeached by upsetting the conservative wing of the party that currently has him hostage. This means that for this bill to pass, enough moderates have to break away from the Republican party without the Speaker’s approval and join Moderate Democrats to pass this bill. This degree of political cooperation on such a high stakes issue today is extremely unlikely, but it is necessary to pass this bill to give Ukraine a fighting chance and protect U.S. interests abroad.

Engagement Resources:
  • House Progressive Caucus; Readers who sympathize with Progressive objections to this bill may want to explore this site to learn about other Progressive causes.
  • DCCC; Readers who are inclined to support the Democratic party and want to ensure that they have a clean majority in Congress next cycle, may be inclined to support this organization.

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