On Capitol Hill, a growing commitment to maintain the flow of arms to Ukraine
The best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews at Apple podcast or Podcast One.
Ukraine and keeping aid going to that country is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers came back this week and it’s high on the agenda. the Federal Drive with Tom Temin got more details from OMCP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.
Tom Temin: And Mitchell, am I right, that’s going to be top of the agenda?
Michael Miller: Absolutely. That will no doubt be the immediate focus of Congress this week as the Senate and House return from their two-week recess. The Biden administration indicated last week that the initial $14 billion package approved by Congress was starting to run out, believe it or not. You also have the Prime Minister of Ukraine meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Congressional leaders last week, thanking the United States for what has already been approved, but stressing that Ukraine still has significant needs related to the army, to humanitarian aid and to the maintenance of its own economy. . So while the president announced over $1 billion in aid last week, $800 million for the military, another $500 million tied to the economy, this is definitely going to be a top priority for lawmakers and Republicans and Democrats, as you indicated, are fully on board saying that the flow of military weapons, including ammunition, heavy artillery, javelins, darts, drones, must keep arriving to give Ukraine the tools it needs to keep pushing back the Russians.
Tom Temin: And one of the commentators on one of the cable networks, I forget which one or who, but said something interesting and one is that in the new region where the intense fighting is taking place, the United States have the long supply chain, and Russia has the short distances involved. And it’s a reversal of what it was earlier in the war.
Michael Miller: True, that has been an undercurrent of a lot of discussion here on Capitol Hill, especially people who sit on Armed Services committees. You literally have all the way west, you know, to Lviv, and the eastern front of the US and NATO allies, they have to move all this equipment across the country beyond kyiv, up to to the Donbass region. This is a huge logistical challenge for NATO, for the United States and, of course, for Ukraine. And as you point out, the Russians only have a short distance. On the other side, they are further east, of course, to descend into the Donbass. So there’s a lot of talk about getting this military equipment across the country. And some people have also spoken about the fact that they fear that the military equipment sent by the United States will fall into the wrong hands and into the hands of the Russians. Of course, this has happened in the past in various military conflicts, so members of Congress are watching this as well. So we’re trying to make sure that this equipment gets where it’s supposed to go. Additionally, the White House announced last week that it had appointed a retired three-star general, Army Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, to help coordinate all this influx of military assistance to Ukraine, because that is, again, a big concern.
Tom Temin: Interesting, but I guess in Congress there’s a bipartisan feeling that this really matters to the American public, which maintains a high degree of outrage at what’s going on.
Michael Miller: Well, while there are obviously a lot of concerns with inflation and the amount of money spent by Congress, this is one area where Republicans and Democrats have really come together. However, there are many complications associated with this funding. If I can just move on to COVID funding, which as you know hasn’t been approved, the Senate is still trying to get a $10 billion deal on this package. And this is where things get complicated. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he wants Ukraine aid and COVID funding to be linked. This could be a real problem. Despite an agreement in principle earlier on COVID. Republicans have plenty of reservations about another massive COVID package. And they say they won’t vote for COVID unless they get a vote on an amendment to block the Biden administration’s plan to remove Title 42 restrictions on migrants. So this is all about to fall apart and we’ll have to see how it’s going to be sorted out, if they’re able to release if you will Ukrainian military aid, which I suspect will happen because’ there’s so much pressure on lawmakers to withdraw this money that they don’t want it frozen in the next few weeks or months. Kind of like a big political Rubik’s Cube. Exactly. And there are a lot of moving cubes. And a lot of those people aren’t quite sure how to fix that Rubik’s cube or get it to where it’s supposed to be.
Tom Temin: We speak with OMCP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller. And the other big topic is the IRS struggling in post-season filing processing. And we all know the remaining paper answers from last year and a bunch of new papers coming this year and so on.
Michael Miller: No, they really aren’t Republicans. Democrats agree the agency is a mess, but they disagree on whether it should get the $80 billion the president wants for the agency. I followed that House hearing last week, led by Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly. As you well know, he has a keen interest in it as chairman of the government operations subcommittee, and this hearing has just laid out all the problems the IRS is currently facing. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, as he has done in the past, has indicated that this agency has many challenges. She has a huge hiring problem. He’s got a huge problem trying to update all that computer hardware that dates back to the 1970s. But Republicans have indicated they’re not willing to spend that kind of money even though they’ve acknowledged there’s has issues, including subcommittee GOP member Jody Hice, who just said we need to look at ways to make the agency more efficient. . But just to give people an idea of some of the challenges that the IRS and taxpayers face, at one point during this hearing Charles Rettig noted that during the pandemic, and that was some time, but at one point the IRS had more than 20 million mailings that had never even been opened. And of course, millions of taxpayers continue to file their returns on paper, even though the vast majority do so by computer. And this backlog of paper, as you well know Federal News Network has pointed out over the years, has literally accumulated for the agency. So they are still trying to figure out exactly what they can do. Now Rettig says they’ve made major progress. And they’re getting closer to real-time response week-to-week and month-to-month. But there are still so many problems within the IRS.
Tom Temin: And another question I wanted to ask you and it’s a bit funny, but not at all. And I think last week, Wednesday night, you were on Capitol Hill. I was at Nationals Park watching the Army Golden Knights paratrooper go down. You were where they were evacuating because of an apparently rogue plane. And is Congress going to find out that even though they weren’t there, but their employees all had to evacuate, what happened here?
Michael Miller: Yeah, isn’t it interesting that we’re both into those key points. Inside the Capitol, it was just past 6:30 that evening, and here we heard massive sounds of ringing and high-pitched screams going off, everyone being told to get out of the Capitol . Those who were here. As you point out, luckily there weren’t many people here. But the United States Capitol Police made it very clear you had to get out of here immediately. Quickly, it became clear that this was going to be something that wasn’t a threat. I actually happened to look up at the sky and saw that plane you saw above the stadium, but I saw it a short distance away as people were trying to get to it to understand. But right now, a growing number of House lawmakers are looking to open an investigation into the kind of issues with that communications snafu, especially considering that Jan. 6 wasn’t that far away. People just can’t believe that would happen at this point. The FAA did acknowledge the problem was on its way out, the military said they had gone through all the protocols. US Capitol Police said they were not notified. So we’ll start with the internal FAA investigation first and see if that satisfies lawmakers. If not, there may be a hearing about it.
Tom Temin: Interesting because it was, the comedic sense was the military leaders of the four major branches, where they throw ceremonial throws, all the leaders in the National Capital Region for the navy, army, marine corps, the Air Force, and you wonder which of them should have made the call if one of them?
Michael Miller: Well, yeah, I mean, it’s almost incomprehensible that this could happen after January 6th, frankly, because there’s been so much attention, as you know, to get communication, lines of communication clear between all those who are linked to this. And it’s not something that just happened a few days in advance. I mean, as you know, it’s pre-planned months and military appreciation night, I mean, everyone knew, every branch of the military knew this was coming. So the idea that it caused this panic for only about less than half an hour is still pretty amazing to a lot of lawmakers who are still scratching their heads about it.
Tom Temin: And capped off with an 11-2 Nationals loss at the hands of the Diamondbacks.
Michael Miller: Icing on the cake, right?
Tom Temin: OMCP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller thanks a lot
Michael Miller: You bet.