Update: The House approved a massive spending bill Wednesday night that would rush $13.6 billion in US aid to battered Ukraine and its European allies, after top Democrats were forced to abruptly drop their plan to include fresh funds to battle COVID-19. Senate approval was assured by week’s end or perhaps slightly longer, the AP reports. Our original story from Wednesday follows:
Democratic congressional leaders abandoned plans for a fresh infusion of $15.6 billion for battling the COVID pandemic on Wednesday, clearing the way for House debate and passage of a vast government spending bill anchored by aid for Ukraine and European allies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the COVID-19 spending would be removed after rank-and-file lawmakers objected that it would be paid for, in part, by cutting previously approved pandemic assistance to their states, the AP reports. "We must proceed" with the $1.5 trillion legislation because of the urgency of helping Ukraine and the bill’s spending for other programs, the California Democrat wrote to colleagues.
While Democrats had insisted on including the pandemic money in the sprawling, bipartisan legislation, Republicans demanded it be paid for with cuts elsewhere. After hours of talks, Pelosi relented to Democratic lawmakers who were refusing to let the measure move forward unless the earlier funds their states were supposed to receive were protected. It was unclear whether Congress will be able to revive the dropped COVID-19 funds—which were largely aimed at providing more vaccines, treatments, and tests—in future legislation. For now, the confrontation stood as a remarkable rank-and-file rebellion that eliminated pandemic spending that leading Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, had said was a top priority.
The money countering the Russian invasion that's triggered Europe's biggest refugee exodus since World War II ensured that the overall bill would ultimately pass with robust support from both parties. President Biden requested $10 billion for the military, humanitarian, and economic aid last week, and backing in Congress was so staunch that the figure grew to $13.6 billion in days. "The people of Ukraine are courageously standing up for freedom," Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern said as debate began. "Congress, the Biden administration, and the people of the United States must stand with them." Party leaders planned to whip the 2,741-page measure through the House on Wednesday and the Senate by week’s end.
(Read more Congress