Lawmakers on Capitol Hill reject the idea of asking Israel and Ukraine to pay the billions of dollars in military assistance they seek and say the U.S. must rack up debt and give away money and arms to support crucial democracies.
Top Democrats and Republicans said the payoff is worth adding to the $33 trillion national debt as President Biden presses Congress to approve $106 billion in emergency money for Ukraine, Israel and other national security fronts.
Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the choice is between paying Ukrainians to fight and die or risking a commitment of U.S. troops.
“We’re spending money for our national security. We’d better have money for that. Otherwise, our entire democracy and country is at stake,” he said. “If we don’t do that now and Vladimir Putin continues as he has — he hasn’t stopped in Georgia, he didn’t stop in Crimea — then not only will we be spending that, our troops, if they mess up and go into any of our NATO allies, countries, our troops will also be there.”
Mr. Biden’s request includes $61 billion for Ukraine in its war with Russia, $14.3 billion for Israel to battle Hamas, $7.4 billion for Taiwan and other Pacific region needs, $14 billion for processing immigrants in the U.S. and $9 billion in humanitarian assistance.
Tension between defense spending and budgets has long roiled Washington, and the war hawks usually prevail.
Paying for a foreign war adds a different aspect to the debate. Some Republicans say they cannot stomach the idea when the total federal debt stands at $33 trillion and is rapidly growing.
“Let these other countries borrow the money they need,” Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, said in a social media post. “Instead of having the U.S.A. borrow money with the perpetual labor of hard-working Americans as collateral for the debt incurred for foreign aid.”
Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican and Budget Committee member, said constantly tacking the bill onto future generations’ tab isn’t a lasting solution.
“That’s why we’re $33 trillion in debt. So when it comes to anything we do in terms of foreign aid, it ought to always be discussed: How are you paying for it?” he said. “And, of course, we’re paying for it 100% by borrowing it ourselves.”
During World War II, the French and British bought and then went into debt to acquire U.S. weapons, making America the “arsenal of democracy.”
Those deals were between relatively equal countries with globally significant threats from peer-sized adversaries.
Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, said he doubted that Ukraine could swing an assistance deal the size of Mr. Biden’s proposal.
“I don’t think they have the credit to work without the United States,” Mr. Khanna told The Washington Times.
Ukraine’s gross domestic product was about $200 billion in 2021, before the Russian invasion. Israel, though a much smaller nation, has a GDP of roughly $500 billion.
Mr. Khanna said those worried about deepening the U.S. debt should look for other ways to tame it, such as trimming parts of the Pentagon’s budget or canceling “$10 trillion of tax breaks” that Presidents Reagan, George W. Bush and Trump signed into law.
“That would save one-hundredfold more money than the amount of money we’re talking about on Ukraine,” he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said the U.S. must spend now to prevent a vacuum that China would rush to fill.
“I talked to allied nations abroad. They say we know that Chinese aid comes with weird strings attached to put us in bizarre situations down the road, but you can’t fight something with nothing,” he said.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, said the U.S. investment pays off.
“To just say ‘no’ because we borrow it ignores the fact that those relationships, those geopolitical relationships, are what provide us access to land, bases and influence, which matters,” he said. “If we’re not there, people without our values will step in and then pay for that influence.”
Mr. Meeks said America can pay in either money now or lives later.
“In the past, we had to send troops and we were on the ground fighting ourselves. In this one, we’re saving our lives. We’re giving them what they need,” he said.