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Would House approve ‘loaning’ rather than giving Ukraine aid?

Would House approve ‘loaning’ rather than giving Ukraine aid?

There’s a new plan afoot to do just that, even if Kyiv cannot repay it.

Reporting | Washington Politics

As the nearly $100 billion Senate-passed national security supplemental continues to stall in the House of Representatives, lawmakers are looking for alternatives. One idea that has been circulating Capitol Hill this week: formatting the next tranche of funding as a waivable loan instead of a grant in an effort to convince skeptical Republican members.

But so far, the plan seems to have caused confusion among supporters of further aid to Kyiv, and has seemingly not meaningfully moved its opponents — and Johnson’s striking of a deal with Democrats to fund the government has put him in an ever more precarious political position. The House passed its government funding legislation on Friday before heading off on a two-week recess. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has said that he expects to tackle the foreign aid supplemental next without committing to what the legislative vehicle will do.

“There's a number of avenues that we've been looking at to address that. And I'm not going to say today what that is,” Johnson said about how he will approach the bill. “I have not specifically talked about the mechanism of funding Ukraine. We're talking about the whole supplemental and all these pieces, whether they would go individually or as a package, all those things are being debated and discussed internally."

The speaker has refused to bring the Senate-passed supplemental package — which includes $60 billion for Kyiv, $17 billion for Tel Aviv— to the House floor. While he has maintained that the House GOP conference was searching for other ways to pass foreign funding, his dithering inspired two groups of House members to pursue discharge petitions that would force a bill to the floor over leadership’s objections.

One, introduced by Rep, Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), would bring the Senate-passed bill to the House floor, currently has 186 signatures. On Thursday, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who is retiring on Friday, became the first Republican member to add his name to the petition.

The other, a bipartisan measure led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) that would provide $66 billion in defense-only funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan — removing the humanitarian assistance for Kyiv and Gaza that is in the Senate bill — and includes border security provisions, has 15 signatures. Either petition would need 218 signatures in order to succeed,

Former President Donald Trump floated the idea of loaning aid to Ukraine in February amid the Senate battle over the supplemental. "They want to give them $60 billion more," Trump said. "Do it this way. Loan them the money. If they can make it, they pay us back. If they can't make it, they don't have to pay us back."

Although at first it appeared like just another off-the-cuff idea from the 45th president, a series of reports this week indicate that congressional proponents of sending more aid to Ukraine are either supportive of the idea or understand that it may be the only way to get enough members on board to pass Ukraine-related legislation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the few senators to endorse the idea during floor debate in February, said he raised the idea with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a recent visit to Kyiv. Graham, in a statement released on Monday, said that he told Zelensky “no-interest, waivable loan is the most likely path forward.”

According to reporting from Politico, about $12 billion of the $60 billion in aid would be loaned, since the remaining funds will technically be spent to support the U.S. weapons industry.

Johnson has also offered support for the idea, calling it “a common sense suggestion.” But he will likely continue to feel political pressure from both sides over Ukraine aid. Members of the Freedom Caucus sharply criticized Johnson for his handling of government funding negotiations, which could limit his political capital on other issues.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has already filed a “motion to vacate” that could possibly remove Johnson from the speakership, though it is unclear whether the motion will ever be voted on. Some Democratic members have already pledged to save Johnson if he agrees to bring the national security supplemental to the floor.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has also come out in opposition to the loan idea, telling reporters that the process would take too long and “the best way we can get Ukraine the help they need is for the House to pass the Senate bill.” Democrats have offered similar hesitations. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) both noted that time was of the essence and passing already-existing legislation was their preferred path.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that it was “one of those back-of-the-napkin ideas that sounds really good until you actually try to operationalize it.”

Nonetheless, the Democratic members were not willing to completely dismiss the plan. Murphy said he would be “interested to hear more” and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said it would be “worth considering.”

Given that the plan is associated with Trump, many Democrats have neglected to wholeheartedly back it. But if they sense that it is a way to win over enough Republican votes it’s possible that they could change their minds.

“If there’s a way to structure money to Ukraine in a way that gets Republican votes, then I’d sure take a hard look at that,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

“Democrats support aid to Ukraine. Whether you call it a loan, or whatever, get ‘em some resources,” added Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee. “You’ve got to get them some help. So if it comes in a loan, it’s help; if it comes as an aid package with no requirements, it’s still help.”

The U.S. occasionally offers foreign aid in the form of a loan. Approximately 10% of the post-World War II Marshall Plan, which totaled about $13.3 billion in aid — or more than $200 billion adjusted for inflation, was implemented through loans. On Monday, the State Department announced that it will loan $2 billion to help Poland rebuild its military. It represented the first use of a military aid loan via the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing since 2017, according to Defense One.

As Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), has already acknowledged, the loan will ultimately serve the same purpose as a grant. “If that gets some people over the line, fine, because ultimately, Ukraine is not going to pay back the loan to the U.S., it’s going to be a loan that’s forgiven,” he said.

That reality seems to pose a problem for long-time opponents of Ukraine aid. “"My question would be, what are you going to collect? You've got a war-torn country that basically doesn't have an economy," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told Business Insider on Thursday. "So how do you get paid back?"

While the growing popularity of this option signals that supporters of Ukraine aid are searching for a Plan B, so far those who have voiced support for it are primarily those who already supported aid to Ukraine to a certain extent. Ultimately, if Johnson wants to keep the support of his caucus, and perhaps his job, he will need to convince long-time skeptics of aid to go along with this proposal. So far, there is little evidence of movement on that front.

Handout photo shows US House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on December 12, 2023 in Washington, DC, USA. Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via ABACAPRESS.COM/Reuters

Reporting | Washington Politics
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