Saturday, March 2, 2024

US Senate unveils $118bn funding bill for Ukraine, Israel

The United States Senate has unveiled a $118bn bipartisan deal that would boost border security and provide wartime aid for Israel and Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden and Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate have been pushing to resupply Ukraine with wartime aid but have faced resistance from conservative Republicans who have insisted on measures to tackle illegal immigration at the border with Mexico.

The bill announced on Sunday would provide $60bn in aid to Ukraine, whose efforts to push back Russia’s invasion have been hampered by a halt in US shipments of ammunition and missiles.

The deal would also provide $14.1bn in military aid to Israel: $2.44bn to address security in the Red Sea, where Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched dozens of attacks on commercial shipping, and $4.83bn to support partners in Asia where tensions have spiked between China and Taiwan.

Under the deal, the president would be granted new powers to immediately expel migrants if authorities become overwhelmed with asylum claims and applications at the border would be subject to quicker and tougher enforcement.

Illegal immigration is expected to be a key issue during the presidential election in November, with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump campaigning heavily on claims of an “invasion” from the southern border.

Biden on Sunday urged Congress to “swiftly pass” the deal so he could sign it into law, warning Republicans who have expressed alarm about the security of the border that “doing nothing is not an option”.

“Now we’ve reached an agreement on a bipartisan national security deal that includes the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades. I strongly support it,” Biden said in a statement.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated he would aim to hold a vote on the bill on Wednesday, describing the package as a “monumental step towards strengthening America’s national security abroad and along our borders”.

“This is one of the most necessary and important pieces of legislation Congress has put forward in years to ensure America’s future prosperity and security,” Schumer added in a statement.

Despite the backing of top Democrats, the bill faces uncertain prospects in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a majority.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Sunday that the Senate deal would be “dead on arrival” if it reaches his Republican-controlled chamber.

“I’ve seen enough. This bill is even worse than we expected, and won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the President has created,” Johnson wrote on X.

“As the lead Democrat negotiator proclaimed: Under this legislation, ‘the border never closes’.”

The bill could also face resistance from some Democrats over its provision of more military aid for Israel, which is under mounting international pressure over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has called for the removal of $10bn earmarked for offensive weaponry while keeping funds for defensive systems.

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