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Top White House official warns of 'dire' situation on Ukraine aid

Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said there is no money left for large weapons packages.
Top White House official warns of 'dire' situation on Ukraine aid
Posted at 3:12 PM, Jan 05, 2024

President Joe Biden's top budget official warned in stark terms on Friday about the rapidly diminishing time that lawmakers have to replenish U.S. aid for Ukraine, as the fate of that money to Kyiv remains tied up in negotiations over immigration, where a deal has so far been out of reach.

Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, stressed that there is no avenue to help Ukraine aside from Congress approving additional funding to help Kyiv as it fends off Russia in a war that is now nearly two years old. 

While the Pentagon has some limited authority to help Kyiv absent new funding from Capitol Hill, "that is not going to get big tranches of equipment into Ukraine," Young said Friday.

While the administration still has presidential drawdown authority, which allows it to pull weapons from existing U.S. stockpiles and send them quickly to Ukraine, officials have decided to forgo that authority because Congress has not approved additional money to essentially backfill that equipment — a move that Young said was a "very tough decision." 

The U.S. sent a $250 million weapons package to Ukraine late last month, which officials say was likely the last package because of the lack of funding.

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Young also detailed the impact that a lack of additional U.S. aid would have on Ukraine aside from its military capabilities, such as Kyiv being unable to pay its civil servants to ensure that its government can continue to function amid Russia’s barrage.

"Yes, Kyiv might have a little time from other donors to make sure they can keep their war footing, keep the civil service, but what happens in ... other NATO allies, if the U.S. pulls out their support?" 

Young made comments during a breakfast with journalists Friday hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

"I’m very concerned that it's not just the United States' resources that are necessary for Kyiv to stop Putin. It is: What message does that send to the rest of the world? And what will their decisions be if they see the United States not step up to the plate?"

Young, a veteran congressional budget staffer, added that the situation was "dire" and "certainly, we've bypassed my comfort level" in the time that has gone by since Congress greenlighted new funding for Ukraine. 

President Biden requested a smaller tranche of new aid to Ukraine in September, but then went to Congress with a sweeping national security spending request in late October that included roughly $60 billion in new funding for Ukraine.

That ask from President Biden also included about $14 billion in managing and caring for the high number of migrants who continue to arrive at the southern border, and the president has said he is willing to negotiate with Republicans to accept some policy changes that would tighten asylum and other migration laws — a key demand of GOP lawmakers.

Complicating the dynamics further is that Washington is confronting a pair of deadlines — the first on Jan. 19, the second on Feb. 2 — to fund the federal government or risk a shutdown at the start of a presidential election year. 

Key lawmakers have yet to reach topline spending figures for each federal agency, a necessary step before the broader bills funding the government can even be written.

Young said she is not yet pessimistic, but that she is "not optimistic" on the prospects of averting a shutdown in the coming weeks because of sharp new warnings from House Republicans — dozens of whom traveled to the border this week with Speaker Mike Johnson — that they were willing to shutter the government if they didn’t extract sufficient concessions on border policy from the White House.

"The rhetoric this week has concerned me that that is the path that House Republicans are headed down, even though I will say I think leadership is working in good faith to prevent a shutdown," Young said.

Asked whether the emergency spending request with Ukraine should pass before legislation to fund the government, Young added: "I'll take it however they can pass it. I mean, beggars shouldn’t be choosing. And I'll take it, how they can pass it. It just needs to be passed."

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