Congress returns this week having finally succeeded in funding the U.S. government for fiscal year 2022—the half of it that is left anyway. They should immediately turn to writing the 12 appropriations bills that will fund the government for next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. But it is a midterm election year, so Republicans aren’t going to let that happen. Not when there’s a chance they can take back one or both chambers and they can control the budget.
This week is going to be focused primarily on Ukraine, including a video address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who will speak to a joint session on Wednesday morning. “The Congress, our country and the world are in awe of the people of Ukraine, who have shown extraordinary courage, resilience and determination in the face of Russia’s unprovoked, vicious, and illegal war,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to members announcing the speech.
“The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine,” they wrote.
The House comes back on Tuesday and has “possible consideration of legislation related to trade with Russia” on its schedule for the week. That should be “likely consideration” of that legislation, since it’s the most pressing Ukraine/Russia item on the agenda following Friday’s announcement from President Biden that he would ask Congress to revoke Russia’s trading status. The Senate thus far just has executive nominations on the schedule but is likely to take up the Russia trade bill after the House acts.
The legislation would end Russia’s permanent normal trade relations status (formerly known as most favored nation status). Pelosi previewed that last week in a statement, saying “the House is already ready with legislation to revoke PNTR from Russia in coordination with the President and our allies.”
On Friday, Biden announced that the U.S. along with the Group of Seven nations and the European Union were revoking Russia’s PNTR, clearing the way for Congress to act. Biden had asked Pelosi and Schumer to hold off on passing the legislation, which is required to make the change, until he secured that international agreement. That will give the U.S. and allies the ability to impose tariffs on a wide range of Russian imports, and increase the pressure on Russia’s already faltering economy.
That includes a U.S. ban on the import of Russian diamonds, vodka, and seafood—as much as $1 billion in revenues for Russia. “Putin is the aggressor,” Biden said Friday. “And Putin must pay a price.” Additionally, Biden will sign an executive order that bans the export of luxury goods to Russia. “As Putin continues his merciless assault, the United States and our allies and partners continue to work in lockstep to ramp up the economic pressures on Putin and to further isolate Russia on a global stage,” Biden said.
In addition to those moves, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) is working on legislation to penalize the Russian government and individual Russians under sanction who have assets in the U.S. by denying foreign-tax credits and deductions for U.S. companies doing business in Russia and Belarus.
“If U.S. companies choose to keep paying taxes to Russia—taxes that are funding the bombing of hospitals for women and children—they should do it without a penny of help from American taxpayers,” Wyden said.
That will be the easy part for the White House. A larger problem for Biden is an increasingly hawkish Congress pressuring him to get more military aid—including the fighter jets Poland offered up last week—to Ukraine. The Biden administration has rejected that transfer, not wanting to give Putin any excuse to turn his aggression towards Poland. It’s a fair concern—Russia warned this weekend that it would consider that an escalation, making the convoys delivering any such aid “legitimate targets.” Meaning Russia would happily strike inside a NATO country.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said over the weekend that the possible transfer had come up in discussion between Biden and NATO allies. Military advisers “ultimately determined that the risk/benefit analysis of flying planes from NATO bases into contested airspace over Ukraine did not make sense.” He pointed to Russian attacks on a military base close to the border with Poland as evidence that Putin is willing to escalate.
“What it shows is that Vladimir Putin is frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought that they would make against major cities, including Kyiv,” Sullivan said. “That he is expanding the number of targets that he is lashing out [at] and that he is trying to cause damage in every part of the country.”
Look for more tensions between the White House and Congress on arming Ukraine, and the continuing gas price hypocrisy
One last note on the omnibus bill in the Senate; it’s worth noting that 14 Republicans voted with Democrats to preserve the millions of dollars going to local projects in the bill—earmarks. Four of those Republicans—Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)—turned around and voted against the final spending bill. They’ll be able to go home and crow that they supported those projects even though they rejected the bill that funds them. In other words, it’s another version of “Vote no, take the dough.”