WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats are preparing a plan that would boost President Joe Biden's requested $33 billion Ukraine aid package to nearly $40 billion, and a House vote is possible as soon as today, two people familiar with lawmakers' thinking said.
Biden said he has "nearly exhausted" his authority to continue shipping military aid to Ukraine, adding, "We are approximately 10 days from hitting this critical deadline."
Democrats have already offered their latest proposal to the GOP.
"I'm focused on getting it done -- without extraneous matters on it and getting it done quickly," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of the latest proposal, which Democrats have offered to the GOP. He said the measure "may adjust some in the process."
Details of the measure were described Monday by people who could speak only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Biden's statement provided no details, saying, "Congress is likely to pass it in substantially the form I proposed."
Democrats' movement on the proposal comes with Russia's invasion of Ukraine in its 11th week and showing signs of becoming a long-term war. U.S. officials in and out of Congress have stressed that it will be critical to continue speeding assistance to Ukraine, whose forces are outnumbered.
Emphasizing the urgency facing U.S. officials, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Pentagon's ability to send weapons systems and other equipment from Defense Department stockpiles to Ukraine will run out in about three weeks.
The Pentagon currently has about $100 million in drawdown authority left from a $13.6 billion Ukraine aid measure enacted in March. That final $100 million is expected to be used no later than May 19, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter delivered Monday to Capitol Hill.
"Which is why we encourage Congress to act quickly," Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. He said the Pentagon would like "no interruption" in its ability to send Ukraine weapons and other equipment.
In the letter, Austin and Blinken urged Congress to act before May 19, when the existing drawdown funds run out.
"In short, we need your help," they said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. "The ability to draw upon existing DoD [Department of Defense] stocks has been a critical tool in our efforts to support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression, allowing us to quickly source equipment and ensure a sustained flow of security assistance to Ukraine."
Backed by Democrats, Biden has asked Congress for another $22.5 billion to buy vaccines, treatments and tests so the country could be better prepared for future covid-19 variants and to help curb the virus's spread in poor countries abroad.
Democrats agreed in a deal with Republicans last month to slice that request to $10 billion, but the compromise was derailed over other disagreements.
Democrats hoped wrapping the pandemic money into the widely popular Ukraine measure would ease approval of the covid-19 funds. Republicans, whose backing would be crucial to pushing legislation through the evenly divided Senate, have opposed adding that money to the Ukraine aid.
In a retreat, Biden conceded that the package should not contain any of the additional billions he's requested to combat covid-19.
Unwilling to slow the Ukraine package, Republicans also want to keep the pandemic spending separate so they can force a vote on a proposal to continue curbs on admitting migrants crossing the Mexican border for fear of spreading the pandemic, restrictions imposed by then-President Donald Trump.
"We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort," Biden said in a written statement. "Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away."
While Democrats say more spending to combat covid-19 is also crucial, their plan to seek votes on a package omitting those funds underscores their thinking that rushing assistance to Ukraine is their top priority. A push for a separate pandemic measure would come later, Democrats say.
Biden's request, which he sent Congress on April 28, asked for $20 billion for defense spending for Ukraine, the U.S. and their allies. It also requested $3 billion for humanitarian assistance, including to help feed people around the world who rely on grains and other food from war-racked Ukraine.
Officials said Democrats' Ukraine measure would include $3.4 billion more than Biden had requested for defense spending and another $3.4 billion over what the president sought for humanitarian aid.
"I think we will be able to do it as quickly as possible," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said over the weekend about an emerging aid package. "We have great bipartisanship in terms of our support for the fight for democracy that the people of Ukraine are making."
BIDEN SIGNS BILL
Also Monday, Biden signed a bipartisan measure to reboot the World War II-era lend-lease program, which helped defeat Nazi Germany, to bolster Kyiv and Eastern European allies.
It all serves as a rejoinder to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has seized on Victory in Europe Day -- the anniversary of Germany's unconditional surrender in 1945 and Russia's biggest patriotic holiday -- to rally his people behind the invasion.
"This aid has been critical to Ukraine's success on the battlefield," Biden said in a statement.
Despite their differences over Biden's approach to foreign policy and perceived missteps in confronting Russia, when it comes to Ukraine the members of the House and Senate have held together to support the president's strategy.
The lend-lease bill that Biden signed into law Monday revives the World War II era strategy to more quickly send military equipment to Ukraine. Launched under during World War II, it signaled the U.S. would become what Franklin D. Roosevelt called he "arsenal of democracy" helping Britain and the allies fight Nazi Germany.
Before signing the bill, Biden said "Putin's war" was "once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe," drawing reference to the significance of the day.
Flanked by two Democratic lawmakers and one Republican, Biden signed the bill. It sailed through the Senate last month with unanimous agreement, without even the need for a formal roll call vote. It passed overwhelmingly in the House, drawing opposition from just 10 Republicans.
"It really matters," Biden said of the bipartisan support for Ukraine.
One of the bill's chief Republican sponsors, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said in a statement the measure will give Ukraine "the upper hand against Russia, and I'm glad America could act as the arsenal of democracy for this critical partner."
"While President Putin and the Russian people celebrated Victory Day today, we're seeing Russian forces commit war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, as they engage in a brutal war that is causing so much suffering and needless destruction," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. She said Putin was "perverting" history to attempt to "justify his unprovoked and unjustified war."
Information for this article was contributed by Alan Fram, Lolita C. Baldor, Zeke Miller, Lisa Mascaro and Will Weissert of The Associated Press.