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Congress Uses Ukraine as Cover for Massive, $1.5T Spending Spree

'It’s an important step. It needs to be passed. It needs to be passed quickly...'

(Headline USA) Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan deal early Wednesday providing $13.6 billion to help Ukraine and European allies plus billions more to battle the pandemic as part of a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending measure to finance federal agencies for the rest of this year.

Though a tiny fraction of the massive bill, the Ukraine spending offered a convenient cover for fiscally reckless lawmakers to deflect from public scrutiny, even as inflation spurred by previous spending packages soars to its highest level in four decades.

Establishment figures on the Right and Left have embraced the war effort as a rallying cry to distract a nation at its breaking point after two years of authoritarinan pandemic measures and other overreach.

President Joe Biden requested $10 billion for military, humanitarian and economic aid last week, but Democratic and Republican backing was so staunch that the figure grew to $12 billion Monday and $13.6 billion just a day later.

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“We’re going to support them against tyranny, oppression, violent acts of subjugation,” Biden said at the White House.

Party leaders planned to whip the 2,741-page package through the House on Wednesday and the Senate by week’s end, though that chamber’s exact timing was unclear.

While fiscal hawks normally would demand time to review its contents and debate the need for wasteful pork add-ons, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, and other proponents of government waste are likely to cite the urgency of Ukraine’s dire situation as a reason not to dig too deeply.

“War in Europe has focused the energies of Congress to getting something done and getting it done fast,” said Schumer.

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Congress also faced a Friday deadline to approve the government-wide spending measure or face a weekend election-year federal shutdown. As a backstop against delays, the House planned to pass a bill Wednesday keeping agencies afloat through March 15.

Subsidizing NATO Allies, Soaking US Taxpayers

Over $4 billion of the Ukraine aid was to help the country and Eastern European nations cope with the 2 million refugees who’ve already fled the fighting.

It also has $300 million in direct military assistance for Ukraine and $300 million to help nearby countries like the Baltic nations and Poland.

Another $6.7 billion was for the deployment of U.S. troops and equipment to the region and to transfer American military items to Ukraine and U.S. allies, and there was economic aid and money to enforce economic sanctions against Russia as well.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the measure would provide loan guarantees to Poland to help it replace aircraft it is sending Ukraine.

“It’s been like pulling teeth” to get Democrats to agree to some of the defense spending, he said. But he added, “It’s an important step. It needs to be passed. It needs to be passed quickly.”

While a large portion of Republicans remained wary of involvement in the conflict—which came conveniently as the country exited the global pandemic and foisted America right back into a state of emergency with nuclear warfare at stake—some traditional neocons, like McConnell, have been fully on board.

They accused Biden of moving too slowly to help Ukraine and NATO allies and to impose sanctions against Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Democrats countered that time was needed to bring along European allies that rely heavily on Russian energy sources. And a push to ban Russian oil imports had become nearly unstoppable before Biden announced Tuesday that he would do that on his own.

Critics contend that the ban, though necessary to the success of any sanctions, will punish American consumers by sending prices at the pump skyrocketing to $5 or more.

Biden has, nonetheless, refused to dial back the restrictions on American energy production that he imposed shortly after taking office, which made the energy-independent nation reliant yet again on Russian exports.

Where will the other $1.4864 Trillion Go?

The huge overall bill was stocked with victories for both parties.

For Democrats, it provides $730 billion for domestic programs, 6.7% more than last year, the biggest boost in four years.

Republicans won $782 billion for defense, 5.6% over last year’s levels, although much of the Pentagon’s budget under the Biden administration has been misappropriated for woke social conditioning instead of military preparations.

Service members would get 2.7% pay raises, and Navy shipbuilding would get a boost in a counter to China.

Nonetheless, it comes after nearly a year of wrangling as Democrats began with a moonshoot opening bid that was doomed from the start thanks to their slender congressional majorities.

Biden’s 2022 budget last spring proposed a 16% increase for domestic programs and less than 2% more for defense.

The bill was also fueled by large numbers of hometown projects for both parties’ lawmakers—earmarks that Congress had banned since 2011 but were revived this year.

Now rebranded as “community projects”—those earmarks include money for courthouses in Connecticut and Tennessee and repairs to a post office in West Virginia. The provisions also name a federal building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after Sen. Richard Shelby, the state’s senior GOP senator, a chief author of the bill who’s retiring after six terms.

The bill “rejects liberal policies and effectively addresses Republican priorities,” said Shelby.

Despite recent reports that states were being forced to throw out expired vaccines due to a sudden surplus, Democrats won $15.6 billion for a fresh round of spending for vaccines, testing and treatments for COVID-19, including $5 billion for fighting the pandemic around the world. That was below Biden’s $22.5 billion request.

Republicans said they’d forced Democrats to pay for the entire amount by pulling back money from COVID-19 relief bills enacted previously. There have been many reports of those state funds also being stolen, wasted or misapplied to unrelated projects.

The package also helps to fill the gaps on welfare and social-service spending after the failure of Biden’s “Build Back Better” appropriations effort. It adds money for child care, job training, economic development in poorer communities and more generous Pell grants for low-income undergraduates.

Public health and biomedical research would get increases, including $194 million for Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” effort to cure the disease. One of the leading advisers for that quixotic initiative is Howard Krein, the husband of Biden’s daughter Ashley. Krein previously reaped the benefits of federal grant funding for his venture-capital firm, StartUp Health.

Although border-security has been nonexistent under Biden, Citizenship and Immigration Services would get funds to reduce huge backlogs of people trying to enter the U.S. by secretly shipping them—at taxpayer expense—to other areas within the country.

There would be fresh efforts to bolster renewable energy and curb pollution, with some of that aimed specifically at communities of color through woke “environmental justice” programs.

There is added funding to build affordable housing. And the measure distributes billions of dollars initially provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted last year for road, rail and airport projects.

The bill “delivers transformative federal investments to help lower the cost of living for working families, create American jobs, and provide a lifeline for the vulnerable,” claimed House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

The bill renews programs protecting women against domestic violence and requires many infrastructure operators to report significant cyber attacks and ransomware demands to federal authorities.

It also includes a provision forcing the Defense Department to report on extremist ideologies within its ranks. However, conservatives have sounded the alarm on such efforts as the Pentagon, Justice Department and intelligence agencies under Biden have all sought to redefine extremism as anything that opposes the leftist regime.

The spending package retains the provisions of the newly embattled Hyde amendment, a decades-old curb against using federal money for nearly all abortions.

Since the government’s fiscal year began last Oct. 1, agencies have been running on spending levels approved during Donald Trump’s final weeks in the White House.

Congress has approved three short-term bills since then keeping agency doors open.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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