Lawmakers Question Pentagon on Ukraine Funds, Signaling Fresh Doubts
WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress sharply questioned senior Pentagon officials on Tuesday about the tens of billions of dollars in military and other aid the United States has sent to Ukraine, casting doubt on whether they would embrace future spending as Democrats pleaded for a cleareyed assessment of how much more money would be needed.
The exchanges at committee hearings, coming just days after the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlighted how concerns about the high cost of sending weapons to Kyiv have intensified on Capitol Hill. The growing doubts have threatened what was once a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of the aid and could make it more difficult for the Biden administration to win congressional approval of funds to replenish its military assistance accounts. The funding inflection point could come as soon as this summer, months earlier than previously expected.
The hearings also illustrated how members of both parties, despite expressing confidence that a majority in Congress remains committed to supporting Ukraine, are concerned that a determined minority — including right-wing Republicans who eschew U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts and liberal antiwar Democrats — may weaken that resolve if the war continues to drag on.
On Tuesday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Mike D. Rogers, of Alabama, the chairman, took the unorthodox step of handing over his question time to Representative Andrew Clyde, an outspoken critic of funding for Ukraine who does not sit on the panel. Mr. Clyde, a Georgia Republican, quizzed a top Defense Department official about allegations of lost and diverted weapons, whistle-blowers, and fraud.
“Accountability of the weapons shipped in is absolutely paramount, especially the most sensitive weapons, to ensure they are being used for their intended purposes and not diverted for nefarious purposes,” Mr. Clyde told Robert P. Storch, the Pentagon’s inspector general.
Pledges to send tanks, the grinding nature of the war on the ground and a steady clamor from certain corners of Congress to greenlight advanced systems for Ukraine have threatened to drain war funds at a faster clip than appropriators anticipated last December, when lawmakers approved about $45 billion in military and other assistance, projecting it would last until the end of September.
The steep price tag of the war has prompted Congress to issue a battery of oversight requirements for information about how the money has been spent, some of which has been provided to lawmakers. Yet few of those details have reached the public.
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“We’re all concerned about accountability,” said Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, who has supported Ukraine funding ventures in the past. “Please, let’s get this publicized so the American people can trust what the expenditures are.”
The accelerating spending and dearth of detailed information have fueled the resolve of several naysayers, who doubled down this week on a campaign to cast the Ukraine assistance program as a failed boondoggle, with the apparent tacit blessing of party leaders.
Mr. Storch and other Pentagon officials testified that there had been no substantiated instances of sensitive weapons being diverted for ill purposes, but his statements did not silence the critics.
“You cannot testify that we have complied with the end-use monitoring requirements at all times during this conflict, can you?” insisted Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, accusing Mr. Storch of dodging.
Democrats, too, voiced concerns on Tuesday, pleading with Pentagon leaders to be straight with them about how much more money lawmakers could expect to be asked to approve for Ukraine.
“How many more times do you think Congress needs to provide aid?” Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, asked Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, during his appearance before the Armed Services panel. “What do you think, at the end, is the end game?”
The questioning was mirrored by some Democrats on the House Appropriations panel that oversees military spending posed similar questions to Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
“How much bigger would the bill be?” asked Representative Ed Case, Democrat of Hawaii, expressing concern about the administration’s successive requests for more aid. “We have to at least anticipate that possibility that we would see a higher bill next year.”
Pentagon leaders were reluctant to commit to either a figure or a timeline upon which they would be seeking additional funds, saying that the vagaries of the war made it impossible to commit to a schedule.
“I don’t have a sense of whether it would be higher or reduced; I just know that we are planning for the kind of effective deterrent force that Ukraine will need,” Ms. Wallander said.
Mr. Kahl suggested that the demands of some lawmakers to step up military assistance to Ukraine could further complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to keep the war effort supplied.
In the past week, the bipartisan group of House members calling on President Biden to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets has more than tripled. On Tuesday, Representative Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a member of the group and former Air Force officer, implored Mr. Kahl to explain why programs to train Ukrainian pilots to operate the systems had not commenced.
Mr. Kahl insisted that doing so would not save time, estimating that it would take about 18 months to train Ukrainian pilots to use the F-16 jets, which was also the Pentagon’s shortest projected time frame for sending them.
“It doesn’t make sense to start training them on a system they may never get,” he said, noting that while F-16s were a priority for Ukraine, “it’s not one of their top three priorities.”
He also said that even sending older models of F-16s would be costly, totaling $2 billion to $3 billion for about 36 planes, which falls short of the 50 to 80 that the Pentagon estimates Ukraine would need to update its existing air force.
“That would consume a huge portion of the remaining security assistance that we have for this fiscal year,” Mr. Kahl noted, ticking through the numbers. “These are the trade-offs we are making in real time.”
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