WASHINGTON ― Several U.S. senators on Tuesday asked for additional briefings and reports on President Joe Biden’s new $13.7 billion funding request for Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
The White House budget office last week announced the latest Ukraine aid request, which includes $11.7 billion for security and economic assistance through December. It also seeks an additional $2 billion to reduce domestic energy costs driven up in part by the war.
Defense spending panel chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., told Defense News he wants Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin or Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks to provide more information on the request.
“I’m not opposed to it; I just want to know what’s in it,” said Tester.
Armed Services Committee members Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., also asked that the Pentagon brief the Armed Services Committee and submit a report with more details.
In addition to the new request, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told Defense News the Biden administration should quickly use the roughly $2.8 billion in untapped drawdown authority to send materiel from U.S. stockpiles to Ukraine, because the authority is due to expire by Oct. 1.
He lambasted the White House for only requesting $7.2 billion within the new $13.7 billion request for the Defense Department, arguing that’s far too low.
Since last August, the Biden has used presidential drawdown authority 11 times to provide tens of billions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine.
The $7.2 billion in new Ukraine aid includes another $3.7 billion in presidential drawdown authority and a further $1.5 billion to replenish items sent to Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles. Another $3 billion, under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, would allow the Pentagon to contract for new weapons and equipment for Ukraine.
Separately, the Pentagon would get just under $1.6 billion to continue the U.S. troop presence bolstering NATO’s eastern edge after Russia invaded. The U.S. has temporarily deployed about 20,000 forces and now has about 100,000 U.S. service members in Europe.
“This aid package is insufficient to provide the Ukrainians with what they need to win,” Inhofe said in a post to Twitter last week. “The Biden admin is now explicitly arguing to provide Ukraine with less military aid than Congress gave them several months ago in a massive bipartisan vote. Congress will have to lead again.”
“It’s clear that Congress will have a lot of work to do to improve a Ukraine aid package when we return. The American people deserve a military aid strategy that protects U.S. national interests by helping the Ukrainians end this war quickly,” he added in the post.
Asked Tuesday whether the Pentagon would use the $2.8 billion in unused drawdown authority before it expires, Defense Department press secretary, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, didn’t directly answer.
The Pentagon is “committed to using the aid that we have to support Ukraine,” he said. “And we’ll continue to work very closely with the interagency and with Congress to ensure that we’re spending that aid as expeditiously as possible to support them in their fight.”
Congress in March approved a $13.6 billion Ukraine aid package. Lawmakers tripled that funding in May with another $40 billion package of military, economic and food aid for Ukraine and U.S. allies, which the White House says was designed to last through September. The Biden administration had initially asked for a lower amount – $33 billion – in its second Ukraine supplemental aid request.
The $40 billion Ukraine aid package came to roughly $2 billion per month in drawdown authority, and the Biden administration’s new request equates to roughly $1 billion per month, according to a Republican congressional aide.
“That is the central fight that we’re going to have about this supplemental spending,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak with the press. “They want to go at roughly half the rate Congress told them to go. They’re not breaking the law when they don’t use drawdown authority. It is a violation, I would argue, of the spirit of the law.”
The White House submitted the latest request as part of a continuing resolution to fund the government through December, which Congress must pass before the end of the month to avert a shutdown. But some Republicans called for a clean government funding bill, raising the prospect Congress might pass another stand-alone Ukraine supplemental.
“The cleaner the better,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on both the Appropriations Committee and its defense spending panel. “We have to see where we are and where our caucus is.”
Roughly $750 million in the new Ukraine aid request would go toward procurement, in part increasing production of guided multiple launch rocket systems, or GMLRS. Recent aid packages in the artillery-focused war have included Lockheed Martin-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, with GMLRS ammunition.
A separate provision would expand the pool of recipients for U.S. foreign military financing loans beyond just NATO countries to other countries impacted by the situation in Ukraine. The idea is to encourage those countries to donate materiel to Ukraine, which foreign military financing loans would then replenish.
“We have rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy and we cannot allow that support to Ukraine to run dry,” the Office of Management and Budget said in its announcement last week. “The people of Ukraine have inspired the world, and the Administration remains committed to supporting the Ukrainian people as they continue to stand resolute and display extraordinary courage in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.
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.