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McCarthy rebuffs Senate plan to boost Ukraine aid, other military spending

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says his chamber has no plans to take up legislation that would boost military aid to Ukraine and other defense spending above the levels allowed in a bill signed into law by President Biden that suspends the debt ceiling and curbs federal spending.

McCarthy’s posture puts him at odds with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and majority leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who assured defense hawks in their chamber that the bipartisan debt deal would not prevent Congress from passing supplemental funding for Ukraine beyond the agreement’s $886 billion for defense in the next fiscal year.


"I'm not going to prejudge what some of them [in the Senate] do, but if they think they're writing a supplemental because they want to go around an agreement we just made, it's not going anywhere," McCarthy told Punchbowl News on Monday.

McCarthy suggested additional aid for Ukraine would have to come as part of the annual congressional appropriations process, meaning cuts could be required elsewhere in the Pentagon's budget to comply with the just-passed Fiscal Responsibility Act.

“They’re not going to circumvent what we’re doing here,” he said.

McCarthy added that "the senators are not paying attention to how the system works."

"We will go through the appropriations process, and we will do the numbers that we just agreed to," he said.

In a separate interview, McCarthy told CNN that he thinks “efficiencies” can be found in the Pentagon budget, freeing up funding for other priorities.

"I think what we really need to do, we need to get the efficiencies in the Pentagon," he said. "Think about it, $886 billion. You don't think there's waste? … I consider myself a hawk, but I don't want to waste money. So I think we've got to find efficiencies."


The debt bill, which was negotiated by McCarthy and Biden, got hung up in the Senate after House passage because of concerns from some senators that the prescribed defense spending is inadequate, particularly as hostilities continue between Russia and Ukraine.

To alleviate those concerns, Schumer and McConnell issued a joint statement saying the "debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate's ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia, and our other adversaries."

Despite the concerns, the Senate passed the House bill without making any changes. Amendments to the bill would have sent it back to the House, which probably would not have had enough time to consider it again before an unprecedented US government default.

Lindsey O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina and among the senators expressing concern that defense spending is too low, said he considered McCarthy’s posture to be “a shame” and said he wants to find additional funding for the Pentagon elsewhere in the federal budget.

"The speaker will never convince me that 2 percent below actual inflation is fully funding the Defense Department," Graham told Punchbowl News. "That cannot be the position of the Republican Party without some contest here. … We're playing a dangerous game with our national security. The bill produced is inadequate to the threats we face."

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, said the Biden administration has no immediate need to return to Congress for more funding for Ukraine."We've got enough funds ... to help support Ukraine on the battlefield throughout the rest of this fiscal year," Kirby said. "If we feel like we need to go back to Congress for additional funding for Ukraine, we'll do that, but we'll do that at the appropriate time."He said the administration has been "grateful for the bipartisan, bicameral support" thus far.


The reaction Tuesday to McCarthy's comments underscored a divide among Republicans on how much the United States should help Ukraine.

Some lawmakers said they were open to a supplemental bill providing more funding than would be possible through the regular appropriations process.

Representative Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican and member of the Appropriations subcommittee focused on defense spending, said he is concerned that the legislation passed last week could “shortchange” the Defense Department and is open to additional aid to Ukraine.

"I think we need to have a much larger debate on the subject," he told reporters. "We need to know what the needs are and whether or not Ukraine actually needs additional equipment, et cetera, in order to be able to fight against this illegal invasion of Putin."

Others cheered McCarthy's remarks.

“I will NOT vote for any money to be appropriated to fund a war in Ukraine & voted no all along,” Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted. “The US should end the war and bring peace not fund.”

At a news conference Tuesday, House Democratic leaders signaled that they remain committed to funding Ukraine and would be guided by the Biden administration on when and if a supplemental bill is necessary.


“I read those comments from Speaker McCarthy saying he is very mindful that the most extreme voices in this conference hold sway,” Representative Pete Aguilar of California, the Democratic caucus chairman said. “He has a very strong anti-Ukraine faction within his conference that he’s trying to navigate.”

Fissures opened among Republicans on Ukraine aid months ago, with some House members publicly advocating ending military support.

Congress has appropriated more than $110 billion since the February 2022 invasion by Russia, most of that in economic and military aid.

McConnell's office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment on McCarthy's remarks.