So the federal government wasn’t shut down over the weekend, although we may have to go through this whole drama again in six weeks. Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House, ended up doing the obvious: bringing a funding bill to the floor that could pass only with Democratic votes, because the hard-liners in his own party wouldn’t agree to anything feasible. And the bill didn’t include any of the spending cuts Republicans have been demanding, except for one big, bad thing: a cutoff of aid to Ukraine.
Democrats appear to have agreed to this bill because they expect to get a separate vote on Ukraine aid; President Biden has indicated that he believes he has a deal with McCarthy to that effect. I hope they’re right.
But why did things turn out this way? Michael Strain of the right-leaning (but mostly not MAGA) American Enterprise Institute has called the fiscal confrontation the “‘Seinfeld’ shutdown” — that is, a shutdown about nothing. That’s a good line, but if we’re going to do popular culture references, I think it might be better to call it the “Network” shutdown, as in people shouting “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Nothing short of a coup can satisfy this inchoate rage. But McCarthy evidently thought he could reduce the backlash against his deal with Democrats by betraying, or at least pretending to betray, Ukraine. That’s clearly something MAGA wants. But why?
Whatever anti-Ukraine voices like Elon Musk may pretend, it’s not about the money.
Right-wing hard-liners, both in Congress and outside, claim to be upset about the amount we’re spending supporting Ukraine. But if they really cared about the financial burden of aid, they’d make the minimal effort required to get the numbers right. No, aid to Ukraine isn’t undermining the future of Social Security or making it impossible to secure our border or consuming 40 percent of America’s G.D.P.
How much are we actually spending supporting Ukraine? In the 18 months after the Russian invasion, U.S. aid totaled $77 billion. That may sound like a lot. It is a lot compared with the tiny sums we usually allocate to foreign aid. But total federal outlays are currently running at more than $6 trillion a year, or more than $9 trillion every 18 months, so Ukraine aid accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending (and less than 0.3 percent of G.D.P.). The military portion of that spending is equal to less than 5 percent of America’s defense budget.
Incidentally, the United States is by no means bearing the burden of aiding Ukraine alone. In the past, Donald Trump and others have complained that European nations aren’t spending enough on their own defense. But when it comes to Ukraine, European countries and institutions collectively have made substantially larger aid commitments than we have. Notably, most of Europe, including France, Germany and Britain, has promised aid that is higher as a percentage of G.D.P. than the U.S. commitment.
But back to the costs of aiding Ukraine: Given how small a budget item that aid is, claims that aid to Ukraine somehow makes it impossible to do other necessary things, such as securing the border, are nonsense. MAGA types aren’t known for getting their numbers right or, for that matter, caring whether they get their numbers right, but I doubt that even they really believe that the monetary costs of helping Ukraine are insupportable.
And the benefits of aiding a beleaguered democracy are huge. Remember, before the war, Russia was widely viewed as a major military power, which a majority of Americans saw as a critical threat (and whose nonwoke military some Republicans exalted). That power has now been humbled.
Ukraine’s unexpectedly successful resistance to Russian aggression has also put other autocratic regimes that might have been tempted to engage in wars of conquest on notice that democracies aren’t that easy to overrun. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Russia’s failures in Ukraine have surely reduced the chances that China will invade Taiwan.
Finally, what even Republicans used to call the free world has clearly been strengthened. NATO has risen to the occasion, confounding the cynics, and is adding members. Western weapons have proved their effectiveness.
Those are big payoffs for outlays that are a small fraction of what we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, and let’s not forget that Ukrainians are doing the fighting and dying. Why, then, do MAGA politicians want to cut Ukraine off?
The answer is, unfortunately, obvious. Whatever Republican hard-liners may say, they want Putin to win. They view the Putin regime’s cruelty and repression as admirable features that America should emulate. They support a wannabe dictator at home and are sympathetic to actual dictators abroad.
So pay no attention to all those complaints about how much we’re spending in Ukraine. They aren’t justified by the actual cost of aid, and the people claiming to be worried about the cost don’t really care about the money. What they are, basically, is enemies of democracy, both abroad and at home.
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