Once that objection was negotiated away at the end of last week, there were more unspecified obstacles from other senators, presumably Republicans, that remained undisclosed. One of the sweeteners they added for Republicans was passing a lend-lease program to expedite the provision of U.S. military hardware to Ukraine. President Biden can already use his executive authority to provide materials under the Arms Export Control Act, but this bill creates some waivers of requirements in the law to make the process more efficient. The House did not act on that before leaving for recess Thursday afternoon.
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With passage of the PNTR bill, Russia and Belarus join Cuba and North Korea as the only countries denied normal trade status. It will result in higher tariffs for their products, and directs the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office to work with partners in the World Trade Organization to get them to also revoke favored nation status for Russia and suspend its membership in the WTO.
The oil embargo bill codifies the ban Biden had already enacted on oil, gas, coal, and other petroleum products, but requires that if the embargo is going to be lifted, the president certify to Congress that Russia has negotiated an agreement to withdraw troops from Ukraine, end hostilities, poses no threat to any NATO member, and recognizes Ukraine’s total sovereignty and the right of its people to freely choose their own government. Congress could reject that certification. The PNTR bill also includes these certification requirements for Russia and Belarus to regain normal trade status.
Those bills are headed to Biden.
The House, meanwhile, spent Thursday re-passing those bills so they could go on to the president, and passing a $55 billion package to provide more COVID-19 relief for restaurants and other small businesses that are still struggling because of the pandemic.
The biggest chunk of the package, $42 billion, would go into the existing Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a grant program created in the American Rescue Plan. Out of the 300,000 restaurants and bars that tried to get grants from the program last year, only about one-third secured help. The other $13 billion in the bill would go toward other types of small business, particularly entertainment venues and travel-related businesses.
The House is reportedly looking at funding clawed back from fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loans and grants to pay for it. Senate Republicans, who have the power to kill it, are skeptical.
With that done and Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed to the Supreme Court (YAY!!!!), Congress left Washington for two weeks. Since Capitol Hill is in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak reaching from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and through the House to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), it’s probably a good thing they’re all getting away from each other. Ironically, they left with the latest COVID-19 supplemental bill still languishing in the Senate.