Is the US House Finally Tightening the Purse Strings? Ukraine’s Aid May Come with Strings Attached

Yellow Cat /
Yellow Cat /

As the nearly $100 billion Senate-approved national security bill hits a wall in the House, lawmakers are scrambling for workarounds. The latest genius idea making the rounds is to dress up Ukraine’s next pile of cash as a “waivable loan” instead of just giving it away. Because, you know, calling it a loan might sprinkle enough fiscal responsibility to charm the more, let’s say, “economically cautious” Republicans.

So, this whole “let’s call it a loan” act is mostly just giving Kyiv’s fan club a case of chronic confusion and hasn’t exactly turned its naysayers into flag-waving supporters. Meanwhile, speaker Mike Johnson has found himself in a politically precarious situation. This comes after he brokered a deal with Democrats to secure funding for the government just before the House took a two-week break. Some political analysts argue that this move may have alienated his base, as he chose to work with the opposition party rather than his own.

While Johnson hasn’t committed to a specific plan, he has hinted at exploring different strategies for the foreign aid package. Some speculate that he may be looking to gain support from both sides of the aisle, thereby appearing more moderate and appealing to a broader audience. However, this could also backfire if his actions are seen as betraying the Republican party.

Despite his vague assurances, Johnson’s reluctance to floor the Senate’s package, with its hefty $60 billion for Kyiv and $17 billion for Tel Aviv, has triggered a mad dash among House members to bypass him through discharge petitions.

One petition, championed by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to push the Senate bill, is gathering steam with 186 signatures. It even drew a Republican, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), right before his retirement. Another, aiming for a $66 billion defense-only package sans the humanitarian aid included in the Senate bill, is also making rounds.

There have been reports that in February, former President Trump proposed giving Ukraine a loan instead of a gift, given the current circumstances. Some members of Congress are now considering this option as a potential way to secure enough votes for aid to Ukraine.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently had a meaningful discussion with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy regarding a possible aid package. One component of this proposal is a “no-interest, waivable loan” worth approximately $12 billion, which would primarily benefit the U.S. arms industry. Despite some initial skepticism, there has been some bipartisan interest in exploring this concept further.

Johnson’s leadership is currently under criticism by members of the Freedom Caucus, who have expressed concerns about the loan idea and aid to Ukraine in general. This has resulted in increasing threats looming over his position. Despite the criticism and threats, some Democrats remain open to persuasion if it could guarantee Republican support for providing aid to Ukraine. The Democrats’ willingness to consider the proposal seems to be driven by the possibility of securing bipartisan support for the cause, although the idea itself has received mixed reactions.

Historically, the U.S. has occasionally opted for loans in foreign aid, like the post-WWII Marshall Plan or the recent $2 billion military aid loan to Poland. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) remarked that if rebranding assistance as a loan could win over skeptics, so be it. However, he doubts Ukraine would ever repay, expecting eventual loan forgiveness.

Critics question the practicality of reclaiming funds from a war-ravaged Ukraine. Despite this, the loan strategy is gaining traction as a Plan B among aid advocates, particularly those already inclined towards supporting Ukraine. However, convincing aid skeptics—and perhaps saving Johnson’s leadership—might require more than just rewording the aid package.