Byron York: For GOP, how big a check to Ukraine?
As the war in Ukraine goest into its second year, a new Fox News poll shows Americans divided nearly down the middle over how much and how long the United States should support Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders.
The poll asked: “Do you think there should be a limited time frame for U.S. support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia, or should U.S. support continue as long as it takes for Ukraine to win?” Fifty percent of respondents said the U.S. should be in for as long as it takes, while 46% said there should be a limited time frame for U.S. support. Four percent said they did not know. If that is accurate, there is a very slight edge of Americans who support an open-ended commitment to Ukraine, but it is not a majority, and nearly as many would prefer a time limit to U.S. support.
Some Republicans have united behind what might be called the “no blank check” position on Ukraine. Yes, they support U.S. aid to Ukraine. But they are not on board for unlimited aid. And that leads to the question: If not a blank check, how big a check do they support?
Do they approve of the level of U.S. support so far and simply oppose further increasing it? Do they disapprove of the current level of U.S. support and want to decrease it? Do they approve of the current level but just want to put a hard time limit on it? Do they support some other arrangement?
Up until now, those questions have applied mostly to Republicans in the House of Representatives. “I support Ukraine,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy said recently. “I don’t support a blank check, though. We spent $100 billion here, we want to win.” But it’s not just the House. Last week, a leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, criticized the Biden administration for an approach to Ukraine that is “a blank check policy with no clear strategic objective identified.”
Recently, I asked some Republicans in presidential politics and on Capitol Hill what a “blank check” means and what a proper level of Ukraine support should be. Their answers clarified what GOP leaders are talking about. The “no blank check” approach to Ukraine spending means treating Ukraine spending like … spending. Ever since President Joe Biden took office, Democrats in Congress have tried to push as much federal spending out the door as they possibly could. They weren’t terribly careful to first know whether the money was really needed, where it would go and what safeguards would keep it from being wasted. They just pushed the money out the door.
That’s what they did with COVID. That’s what they did with economic “recovery.” That’s what they did with climate. And that is what they’re doing now with Ukraine. The Republicans saying “no blank check” are, in fact, trying to stop that process of indiscriminate spending.
“It’s really built on the mistrust of massive federal spending,” said one experienced Republican operative. “That is, green energy spending and COVID spending horror stories combined with the impression that Ukraine has a very disturbing record of corruption and the Hunter Biden fiasco. The billions with no strings attached and zero accountability really give the feeling to pause on the ‘blank checks’ and provide more details on what the money is going to, specifically. There is zero trust that the federal government’s word means anything.”
A senior House GOP aide added to that from a legislator’s perspective. “To think about this in terms of ‘how much’ is not the right approach,” he said in an email exchange. “That’s how Democrats have written legislation the last couple of years. Think about their two massive reconciliation bills: they squabbled back and forth over how many trillions could be spent — details to be filled in later. Ukraine assistance (and surely all spending) requires the opposite approach, and House Republicans will need to see the specific requests, strategy behind the requests based on need on the ground, and accountability measures for prospective aid. Let those measures offer guidance to the best policy, rather than a dollar figure.”
So that is what many Republicans mean when they vow “no blank check” for Ukraine. Now, do some of them oppose Ukraine aid altogether? A very small number do, although Rep. Matt Gaetz’s “Ukraine Fatigue Resolution,” which calls on the U.S. to “end its military and financial aid to Ukraine,” is based on the U.S. having already supplied massive amounts of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. Other lawmakers, though, simply want to impose spending controls on Ukraine aid just like they want to impose spending controls on everything the federal government does. Imposing spending controls is what they do, or at least try to do.
“I have never said that I’m not for supporting Ukraine. In fact, I’ve said the opposite,” Republican Rep. Chip Roy said recently. “But what I’m not for is just continuing to write check after check after check without me understanding what’s going to be the actual end result of this.“ Remember that Roy was one of those who held up the election of Speaker McCarthy in the hopes of winning more power to limit spending. It is a key part of his view of what a legislator does.
Nevertheless, some commentators have suggested those who want tighter controls on Ukraine spending are doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding. Recently National Review labeled those skeptics “Putin Republicans.” Certainly allies at MSNBC would agree. But they’re missing the real basis for the “no blank check” argument. The fight about Ukraine spending is, at its heart, another fight about spending. And there will be many of those.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.
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