At the last moment, the US Congress prevented an impending government shutdown – but Ukraine is paying the price for the agreement. The interim budget passed on Saturday evening does not contain any further support for Kiev.

Just a few hours before the deadline, the Senate voted for the bill with a bipartisan majority after the House of Representatives, thereby averting a so-called shutdown. However, the budget only grants a short delay until mid-November – the dispute over a new federal budget between the Democrats and the Republicans has only been postponed. But the crime in the US Congress is already having consequences for Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden signed the law shortly after the vote. But the Democrat also found words of warning: “Under no circumstances can we allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted.” He assured Ukraine on Sunday that he could continue to count on US support. The agreement now brings a reprieve – but above all it also brings many losers. It could cost the Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, his office.

There is a lot at stake in a shutdown

The term of the budget approved by the US Congress at the end of last year ended at the end of this month – that is, at night. By then, a new federal budget had to be approved in order to avert insolvency.

The political wrangling repeats itself every year. As a rule, Congress makes do with passing an interim budget – as was the case this time. A shutdown means that millions of government employees will no longer receive their salaries – many of them will then have to go on compulsory leave. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck and don’t have much savings.

Showdown im Kongress

With the interim budget, ultra-radical Republicans in the USA in particular are setting the tone – at least when it comes to the question of further support for Ukraine, which is being attacked by Russia. They reject this. Most recently, the deeply divided Republicans in the House of Representatives had torn each other apart in the dispute over a new budget and in the process exposed the chairman of the chamber, Kevin McCarthy.

They have a slim majority in the House of Representatives, and Biden’s Democrats have a majority in the Senate. On Saturday morning, McCarthy suddenly pulled out the draft interim budget and turned the tide. At first it seemed as if a shutdown could no longer be prevented.

Play with fire for McCarthy

The interim budget does not contain any aid to Ukraine, but neither does it contain the extensive cuts that the extremes in McCarthy’s party had demanded. It continues to finance government business for 45 days at the level of the previous federal budget. With his surprising move, McCarthy has offended the ultra-radicals. Republican Representative Matt Gaetz announced that he would introduce a proposal to drive McCarthy from office. That doesn’t automatically mean there will be a vote – but for McCarthy, his political survival is at stake. The announcement is no surprise. McCarthy’s opponents have now given the impression that they want a shutdown – for the sake of chaos.

The Democrats are celebrating the interim budget as an example of the ability to compromise in Congress. But it is also a fact that they were taken by surprise by the Republican McCarthy. This would have passed the buck to them for a shutdown if they had opposed the draft law. Biden’s Democrats definitely didn’t want to give the impression that help for Ukraine was more important to them than the paychecks of millions of people in the USA. In the end, it was the Democrats who used their votes to prevent a government shutdown – but at a high price.

Unconditional support is not a given

The United States is considered Ukraine’s most important ally in the fight against Russian invasion. Since the start of the war, Biden’s government has provided well over $40 billion in military aid alone. Biden asked Congress in the summer for billions more for Ukraine – he demanded around $13 billion in military aid alone to ensure support for Kiev until the beginning of 2024. There were also billions more for economic and humanitarian support.

The fact that there is no aid for Ukraine in the interim budget does not mean that Kiev will immediately stop receiving support from the USA. However, the funds approved so far are slowly running out. The showdown in the US Congress is already having consequences – because it sends a message to Russia.

It is a signal of weakness, of a lack of determination on the part of the USA, warned military analyst for the US broadcaster CNN, Cedric Leighton. There are also fears in the USA that the Europeans could reduce their support if the USA takes hesitant action. A good year before the presidential election, it is clear how controversial the issue of Ukraine is now being discussed in the USA – and that the unconditional support of the Americans is by no means a given.

Congress must now act quickly

So Congress will have to approve new aid soon. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders have agreed to fight for it. “I am confident that the Senate will pass additional urgent aid to Ukraine later this year,” Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote. There is a majority for this in the US Congress – even if support is dwindling, especially among the Republicans.

In the House of Representatives, however, it depends on Republican McCarthy to even bring a law to a vote. It is difficult to predict how he will behave under pressure from the right-wing extremists in his group. Most recently, in several statements, he avoided committing to further US aid for the country. When Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for further support in the US Congress last week, McCarthy prevented the Ukrainian president from speaking to both houses of Congress.