Biden doesn’t need Congress to get ‘urgent’ aid to Ukraine, so why is he blaming Republicans?

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Originally published by The Federalist

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President Biden’s latest State of the Union priorities had not so much to do with the state of our troubled union, but more with his reluctance to aid another country.

Over the last few months, the White House waged an intense pressure campaign on House Republicans to approve the “Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2024” in order, the president and his surrogates say, to “save Ukraine.”

Senior Biden officials have pushed the bill for months. In February, after Ukrainian forces had to withdraw from the heavily fortified city of Avdiivka, Biden directly blamed Congress. Last week, in a meeting at the White House with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Biden said Congress must pass the bill “before it is literally too late.” CIA Director Bill Burns told Congress that without the supplemental bill, Ukraine losses would be “significant,” which would be a “massive and historic mistake for the United States.”

So what does the bill really say? How much is designated for Ukraine? And how much might realistically be shipped to Ukraine in 2024?

What’s in the Bill?

Proponents claim the bill will provide embattled Ukraine with $60 billion worth of military aid. Apparently, few have bothered to read the document.

The supplemental bill provides funds through three main channels: the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), Foreign Military Financing (FMF), and the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA).

The bill provides $13.8 billion for USAI until Sept. 30, 2025, or over the next two fiscal years, 2024 and 2025. FMF is allocated $1.6 billion for Ukraine and other countries affected by the war, as well as related costs, until Sept. 30, 2025, again over the next two fiscal years.

The PDA limit is set at $7.8 billion for supplies globally, not only for Ukraine, but for Israel, Taiwan, and any country the president designates, until Sept. 30, 2024. How do these programs work, and what do they really mean for Ukraine?

Funding Our Defense Industry

USAI and FMF funds are used to place orders with American companies to produce military items for Ukraine, which is a long process. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the USAI and FMF funds in the current bill will be spent in annual increments over the next 10 years, from 2024 to 2033. Thus, only a portion of those funds might be spent in 2024, while the rest of them will be disbursed over the next decade, and only then will military items be produced and delivered to Ukraine.

With previous appropriations, the administration has shown a limited sense of urgency. It failed to spend the bipartisan congressionally appropriated funds in time, according to the schedule set by law. In 2022 and 2023, the Biden administration dedicated only a portion of the funds to place production orders. Of the $18.9 billion of USAI funding in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, production orders had been placed for only $12.3 billion, as of Jan. 15, 2024. More than a third of the funds, $6.6 billion, have yet to be used in the 18 months since congressional authorization.

After military orders are placed, it takes some time to manufacture and deliver the weapons to Ukraine. Out of $23.2 billion in USAI and FMF funds for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, only $1.6 billion, which is 7 percent, has actually been delivered to Ukraine.

This shocking number means that 93 percent of what Congress already appropriated as of Jan. 15, 2024, never made it to the Ukrainian battlefield. That being the case, the USAI and FMF funding in the current “$60 billion” bill is unlikely to provide any delivery of military aid to Ukraine in 2024.

Presidential Drawdown Authority

The PDA allows the president to send weapons from U.S. stockpiles up to a funding cap established by Congress. Historically, weapons can be provided to recipients through sales, but the PDA gives the president the ability, on his own, to provide excess equipment to partner countries. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Congress raised the PDA limit from $100 million to $11 billion in response to Kyiv’s need for immediate help. In FY2023, a bipartisan Congress raised the limit to $14.5 billion to help Ukraine.

The Biden-backed “emergency” supplemental bill lowers the PDA ceiling to $7.8 billion for the rest of FY 2024, but that is for all countries in need, not only Ukraine. Further aggravation in the Middle East and the Taiwan Strait could cause the president to devote PDA resources away from Ukraine and toward those military theaters.

If catastrophic developments do not occur in other global hot spots, and the Russia-Ukraine war continues in the current trajectory, then one can assume that out of the $7.8 billion PDA ceiling, Ukraine can optimistically count on $5-6 billion worth. If so, that would be two to three times less than the PDA ceilings in FY2022 ($11 billion) and FY 2023 ($14.5 billion), when Ukraine was the main or sole intended recipient.

The most important factor, and perhaps the most predictable, is the Biden administration’s systematic undersupply of military aid to Ukraine. Neither the administration itself nor its allies have convincingly explained why this is so. Instead, the president has inexplicably blamed Republicans for not passing more aid.

In 2022, out of the $11 billion authorized by Congress through the PDA channel, the Biden administration only delivered $9 billion, leaving $2 billion on the table that was never sent to Ukraine. In 2023, out of $14.5 billion, the administration chose not to use $4.2 billion. Over two years, the shortfalls in military aid via PDA are equivalent, on average, to about a fifth of the amounts Congress authorized.

Assuming the Biden administration continues this trend, and taking the optimistic estimate of $5-6 billion PDA earmarked for Ukraine in 2024, the White House will have only $4-4.8 billion in urgently needed, as it claims, actual military aid delivered to Ukraine for this fiscal year.

This amount — between $4 billion and $5 billion — in 2024 is, of course, far from the oft-cited $60 billion. In the meantime, the Biden administration can still send $4.2 billion of supplies from the 2023 authorization with no further action from Congress.

For two and half months between Dec. 27, 2023, and March 12, 2024, the White House did not deliver any military aid to Ukraine. Yet even today, it still has the authority to send roughly the same amount of aid it is demanding from Congress in the “emergency” supplemental bill.

Had the administration sent weapons and ammunition back in January, the armed forces of Ukraine might not have been forced to abandon their exemplary fortified positions in Avdiivka and suffer otherwise heavy and avoidable losses.

Opposing the supplemental bill doesn’t “play into Putin’s hands,” as Biden irresponsibly claims, but blocking military aid to Ukraine already authorized by Congress, what Biden was doing for more than two and half months, does.

Andrei Illarionov and Morgan Wirthlin

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