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The ridiculous logic blocking vital funding for Ukraine

The amount Biden wants for Ukraine is equivalent to what America spends on itself every four days.

America first. This is the basic reason a handful of super-conservative Republicans are blocking $60 billion in US military aid that Ukraine desperately needs to keep fending off invading Russians. “We must take care of America’s needs first,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Feb. 27, explaining why the House won’t vote on an aid bill for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan that the Senate already passed.

Poor America! Completely neglected, getting no money or attention, while a bunch of egg-headed dilettantes badger Congress to send taxpayer money to some foreign quagmire.

Except this isn’t remotely true. So far in fiscal 2024, which began last October, the government has spent $2.1 trillion on America, or roughly $14 billion per day. Much of that is automatic spending on Social Security payments and Medicare benefits, without any vote needed in Congress, as the chart below shows. America comes first, by definition.

Anybody who gets Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans benefits comes first, literally. Their family members benefit via one or two fewer household bills to pay. If you drive on a road, fly on a plane, or take a subway, you’re likely benefiting from federal infrastructure spending. If you ever get unemployment compensation, you’re at the front of the line, way ahead of any Ukrainian.

The amount President Biden wants for Ukraine is equivalent to what America spends on itself every four days. It’s not cash that goes to Ukraine in giant stacks of Benjamins. Mostly it’s money used to pay for artillery shells, air-defense missiles, and other weaponry drawn from US stocks and supplied by American defense contractors. Ukraine is fighting a battle for survival against the world’s foremost bully, and all they’re asking the United States to do is send stuff that is largely made in America, by Americans.

House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., talks with reporters outside the West Wing after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., talks with reporters outside the West Wing after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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Republicans have a particular America-first grievance. They insist on some kind of action to stem the record flow of migrants at the southwest border before approving any more aid for Ukraine. As if the federal government, which has 15 Cabinet-level agencies and 3 million employees, can only do one thing at a time.

The Ukraine deniers want to create the impression that Biden is doing nothing at all on the southwest border, as if the Border Patrol agents just left the gate open and went home. Not exactly. The Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for the border, has a $170 billion budget and 260,000 employees. Customs and Border Protection, the department specifically charged with border control, has a $19 billion budget and 60,000 employees. The infrastructure for dealing with the border is firmly in place.

Many experts say the US immigration system desperately needs reforms to limit the number of people entering the country, speed the processing of migrants claiming asylum, and break other logjams. That probably requires more money and people, including specialists such as immigration judges to hear all the asylum cases. Guess whose job it is to impose such reforms: The same members of Congress complaining that it’s not happening.

The Senate drafted a bill earlier this year that included many fixes likely to slow the torrent of migrants at the border. The labor union representing Border Patrol agents endorsed the legislation. It died because there weren’t enough Republicans to vote for it, in either the Senate or the House. The same Republicans saying border fixes must come before Ukraine funding are the ones blocking border fixes.

Everybody in Washington knows what’s going on. Former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, wants to exploit the border mess as a campaign issue and tell voters he’ll do better than Biden on immigration. For that to work, there has to be a border mess in the first place. If Republicans help Biden fix the problem, and there’s no longer a migrant surge for voters to get upset about, the case for Trump gets weaker.

So Trump, who dominates the GOP, has been telling loyal party members to block immigration reform and keep the problem stoked. Republicans need a cover story, so they peddle mumbo-jumbo about America first. In reality, America always comes first, whether it’s a pithy slogan or not. If anybody says otherwise, it's a smokescreen.

Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman.

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