WASHINGTON — Congress on Thursday passed a bill that would enhance President Joe Biden’s authority to lend U.S. military equipment to Ukraine.
The House passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, by a 417-10 vote after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation earlier this month.
“Today, we send to President Biden’s desk legislation to revive the consequential Lend-Lease initiative that turned the tide of World War II and will ensure the efficient delivery of further supplies to Ukraine and other Eastern European nations,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement ahead of the vote.
The bipartisan legislation seeks to revive a World War II-era program that allowed the government to lend or lease military equipment to U.S. allies.
The bill would allow the Defense Department to lend or lease defense articles to Ukraine or any other eastern European country, such as Poland, impacted by the Russian invasion.
Biden can already use lend-lease authorities under the Arms Export Control Act, but the latest bill would exempt Ukraine and neighboring countries from several requirements mandated under that law.
Under current law governing the lend-lease program, the president must formally determine that the leased equipment is not required for U.S. military use. It also renders the recipient country financially liable for repaying the United States for any costs incurred, including if the items are damaged or destroyed.
The lend-lease bill would waive those – and several other – restrictions on loaning U.S. military equipment to Ukraine and eastern European security partners.
The bill would also waive a statutory time limit that caps the leases at five years, while requiring the president to establish expedited procedures for delivering loaned or leased military equipment to Ukraine within two months of it becoming law.
However, it remains unclear whether the Biden administration intends to make use of the president’s lend-lease authorities.
“These are not leases that we’re doing with our weapon systems at this point in time, so this bill is complementary – but not necessarily needed – but it’s going to be available if needed,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters during a press call on Wednesday.
The same day Congress passed the Ukraine lend-lease bill, the Biden administration submitted a massive $33 billion request to Congress for additional Ukrainian aid.
That funding request includes more than $20 billion in additional Ukrainian military and security assistance.
Congress had already appropriated $3.5 billion to backfill U.S. military equipment sent to Ukraine as part of the $1.5 trillion government funding bill that it passed last month.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.