Ukraine, Israel, TikTok: the massive aid package before US Congress

WASHINGTON – The US House of Representatives on Saturday will vote on a major aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and on a possible ban of TikTok.

Here is a breakdown of the $95 billion package made up of four bills and some odd amendments that lawmakers are trying to attach to it.

Ukraine

The majority of funds in the package, nearly $61 billion, are earmarked for Ukraine’s war effort against the Russian invasion. President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pleading for this money for months, warning that “if Congress does not help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war.”

Washington is Kyiv’s main military supporter, but Congress has not passed a major aid package for its ally since December 2022 due to partisan squabbling. 

The bill introduced Wednesday would provide nearly $14 billion to train, equip and finance the needs of the Ukrainian army.

Ukraine would also receive $10 billion in “forgivable loans” for vital economic and budgetary support, including for the energy and infrastructure sectors.

The idea of a loan, rather than a grant, was suggested by former president Donald Trump, who believes the United States should stop handing out money without any payback. A “forgivable loan” can be partly or fully forgiven or deferred under certain conditions.

A large chunk of this money will also go to replenishing US military stockpiles.

The bill also authorizes the US president to confiscate and sell Russian assets in order to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine, an idea that is also gaining traction with other G7 countries.

Israel

The United States’ historic ally Israel will receive $13 billion in military assistance as it fights Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

These funds will be used in particular to strengthen Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.

More than $9 billion will be spent to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”

The measure, however, would prohibit any direct US funding of the UN crisis-hit Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA). Israel has accused some of the agency employees in Gaza of involvement in the shocking October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which triggered the war.

Taiwan, TikTok

The bill would provide some $8 billion to counter China through investment in submarine infrastructure and boosting competition with Chinese projects in developing countries.

The bill also earmarks several billion dollars in weapons funding for Taiwan, a self-ruled island that is claimed by China.

It also includes a provision that would force TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States.

Western officials have voiced alarm over the popularity of TikTok with young people, alleging that it is subservient to Beijing and a conduit to spread propaganda, claims denied by the company and Beijing.

Troll amendments

The massive package, a result of a delicate compromise between Democrats and Republicans, was met with backlash from the far-right wing of the Republican Party.

In protest, its members introduced a series of quirky provisions, which have generated some buzz but have no chance of being adopted.

Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene proposed an amendment to a foreign aid bill that would require members of Congress who vote in favor of providing aid to Ukraine to join the country’s military.

“If you want to fund the endless foreign wars, you should have to go fight them,” Greene, a hardline Trump supporter, said on the social media platform X. 

In response, Democrat Jared Moskowitz introduced his own amendment that would rename Greene’s office in Congress into “Neville Chamberlain Room” —- a reference to the British prime minister who pursued a policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany, which ultimately failed to avert World War II. –AFP