Lend-Lease Is Back as Congress Gives Biden New Tool for Quick Ukraine Weapons Shipments

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U.S. Marine Corps M777 towed 155 mm howitzers.
U.S. Marine Corps M777 towed 155 mm howitzers prior to being loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at March Air Reserve Base, California, April 22, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austin Fraley)

Congress has revived a World War II-era tool to quickly ship weapons to Ukraine as President Joe Biden urgently requests billions in new funding, warning existing weapons funding has nearly run out.

On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly approved the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, which removes bureautic hurdles for the United States to quickly send weapons to Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, with the promise of repayment later.

The bill, which cleared the Senate in a voice vote earlier this month, now awaits Biden's signature. The last time the United States had a lend-lease program was during World War II.

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"Bureaucracy, we all know, is an enemy in a crisis, so streamlining processes and improving speed and agility is extremely, extremely important," Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., the only Ukrainian-American in Congress, said on the House floor Thursday.

The bill passed 417-10. All 10 "no" votes came from Republicans: Reps. Andy Biggs, Arizona; Paul Gosar, Arizona; Scott Perry, Pennsylvania; Matt Gaetz, Florida; Tom Massie, Kentucky; Ralph Norman, South Carolina; Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin; Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia; Dan Bishop, North Carolina; and Warren Davidson, Ohio.

The House vote came the same day Biden sent a request to Congress for $33 billion in funding for Ukraine, including $16.4 billion for the Pentagon.

Congress previously approved $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid in March, including $3 billion to replenish U.S. weapons stockpiles that are being sent to Ukraine.

In the weeks since, the administration has committed nearly all of that $3 billion to various weapons packages, pledging and shipping Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Switchblade kamikaze drones, Howitzer artillery systems, armored vehicles and more.

After the Ukrainians defied expectations and staved off a Russian takeover of Kyiv, western officials are warning the next phase of the war, in which Russia is concentrating on the Donbas region in Ukraine's east, could be particularly fierce and that Ukrainians need heavier weaponry faster to build on their momentum in the war.

Biden's latest funding request asks for $5 billion to replace U.S. weapons stockpiles being sent to Ukraine.

He also requested $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the program Congress created in 2016 to buy weapons for and help train the Ukrainian military. That would be 20 times the $300 million Congress approved for the program in 2022 as part of the regular government funding process.

The weapons funding could go toward "even more artillery, armored vehicles, anti-armor systems, anti-air capabilities that have been used so effectively thus far on the battlefield by the Ukrainian warriors," Biden said during a White House address announcing the request Thursday.

The latest request also seeks to create what's called a critical munitions acquisition fund for the U.S. military to ensure the Pentagon doesn't run low on certain types of ammunition when backing countries such as Ukraine with security aid, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference Thursday.

The new funding "will allow the department to purchase and establish a strategic reserve of vital munitions, like anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions, to surge for this crisis and quite frankly crises to come," Austin said.

The request also includes $2.6 billion to fund the continued deployment of U.S. troops on NATO's eastern flank.

"We'd urge Congress to approve our request without delay," Austin said.

The Ukraine funding has broad bipartisan support, but its fate in Congress could become bogged down in partisan politics. Congressional Democrats have indicated they are planning on moving the Ukraine funding alongside COVID-19 funding, which has become entangled in an immigration fight.

While Congress debates the funds, lawmakers say the lend-lease authorities approved Thursday will provide a critical mechanism for the administration to immediately get Ukraine the equipment it needs to win the war.

The World War II "lend-lease program would help propel the Allies to a victory that preserved the promise of democracy for generations to come," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said speaking to the chamber. "Our task today remains the same as it did with the original lend-lease. Make no mistake, Russia invaded with the stated goal of ending liberty and self-governance in Ukraine, yet with unimaginable courage and determination the Ukrainian people are putting their lives on the line for democracy, not only for their own nation, but for democracy writ large for the world."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

-- Deputy Managing Editor Travis Tritten contributed to this article. He can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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