Senate advances $95 billion Ukraine, Israel funding bill, faces uphill battle as budget talks loom

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during the weekly Democratic Caucus lunch press conference at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2024. 

Amanda Andrade-rhoades | Reuters

Senators on Thursday advanced a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, garnering momentum for a funding package that has been a persistent thorn in the side of federal budget talks over the past few months.

By a final tally of 67-32, senators voted to begin debate on a $95 billion aid package to fund Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid in war-torn regions. 

“This is a good first step,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said on the Senate floor following the vote.

The bill still faces an uphill battle as senators now begin discussion on amendments with just a few days until they are supposed to break for two weeks.

If senators postpone talks for the two-week recess, the aid package will likely get sidelined as budget negotiations take the front seat, given looming government shutdown deadlines on March 1 and March 8.

The $95 billion bill was a stripped-down version of the Senate’s $118 billion bipartisan funding package, which was released on Sunday. 

The initial, more expensive bill failed Wednesday in a 49-50 vote after days of Republican opposition to the border security provisions. 

Anticipating that the first vote would fail, Schumer devised a plan to force a vote on the new $95 billion version of the bill, this time subtracting the disputed border security elements.

“For all those Republicans who first said, ‘We want it with border,’ and now say, ‘We want it without border,’ they got both options,” Schumer said Wednesday morning.

The success of Thursday’s vote is a hopeful next step for an issue that has been a point of paralysis for budget negotiations in the past.

Ukraine aid was the centerpiece of a particularly dramatic saga in September. House Republican hardliners tanked a budget deal in opposition to $6 billion of Ukraine aid. At the time, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to remove the Ukraine funding and pass a short-term bill to keep the government running. Days later, McCarthy was ousted from his post.

Since then, Congress has continued to keep the government’s lights on with short-term, stopgap budget measures, called continuing resolutions, passed hastily at several different points over the past year to avoid government shutdowns. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has been adamant about his disdain for continuing resolutions.

“I think operating by CRs and shutting down the government is a dereliction of duty,” he said in December.

Still, deadlocked congressional disagreements have forced Johnson’s hand. In January, he helped pass yet another continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown, which now expires in early March.

With roughly a month until that short-term budget dries up, passing the aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan could leave lawmakers with one less thing to fight over and help clear a path toward a long-term budget.

But Johnson’s hatred for CRs might not be enough to outweigh his desire to torpedo the Senate’s foreign aid bill. Even if senators can pass the $95 billion, border-less bill, House Republicans have not confirmed which way they will swing on it.

“The House will review the Senate’s product,” Speaker Johnson’s office said in a statement on Wednesday. “The Speaker believes the House should review each issue individually on its merits.”

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