U.S. lawmakers look to spend big to boost crisis-hit Ukraine

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building is pictured in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON -Members of the U.S. Congress said on Thursday they could approve hundreds of millions of dollars in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine starting as soon as next week, to boost the government in Kyiv after Russia invaded.

Departing from typical party divisions, both Democrats and Republicans said they favored sharp increases on top of what has already been sent. President Joe Biden’s administration has sent more than $650 million in military assistance to Ukraine over the past year.

“My colleagues and I are carefully monitoring the situation and stand ready to provide assistance both to our Ukrainian partners and to our allies in Central and Eastern Europe as they confront this crisis,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers want to provide Ukraine with humanitarian assistance as well as the defensive weapons needed to battle Russia’s unfolding attack.

“What we’re doing with Ukraine is making sure that we have humanitarian assistance to help the people, that we have lethal defense weapons going into Ukraine to the tune of $600 million for them to fight their own fight,” Pelosi told reporters in San Francisco.

Lawmakers did not provide specific numbers, but they have made clear they back significant spending.

Ukraine would need $1 billion in humanitarian aid over the next 12 months, Representative Barbara Lee, the Democratic chair of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, had told a press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

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Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also backed “significant” additional aid for Ukraine. “Obviously the numbers differ between what would go to defensive weaponry and what would go to other things, such as humanitarian needs, which are probably going to be significant,” he told reporters on a conference call.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters earlier this week he wanted Congress to act on a spending bill for Ukraine next week, when they return to Washington.

Senators had discussed providing $500 million in additional military aid for Ukraine earlier this year during failed negotiations on a bipartisan bill to boost Ukraine and punish Russia. That effort stalled as Democrats and Republicans disagreed over whether to wait to impose sanctions until after an invasion and whether to impose secondary sanctions on institutions that do business with Russian banks.

Aid for Ukraine was among topics discussed when administration officials held non-classified calls about Ukraine with members of the Senate and House on Thursday evening, according to people familiar with the calls.

The Biden administration has not said how much money it would like Congress to authorize, saying the situation was still being assessed.

It was not immediately clear whether funding would be approved in a standalone emergency spending bill, or as part of a broader measure to keep the government open after funding expires on March 11.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Trevor Hunicutt; Editing by Karishma Singh and Lincoln Feast)