US military aid: what’s in the $95bn bill and why has it taken so long for Congress to pass?

<span>The Senate passes the $95bn national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan</span><span>Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA</span>
The Senate passes the $95bn national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel, Ukraine and TaiwanPhotograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

A sweeping foreign aid package overwhelmingly passed the US Congress late on Tuesday after months of delay.

The Senate voted 79 to 18 to approve four bills passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday that would guarantee $95bn in mostly military aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and US partners in the Indo-Pacific.

The decision by Republican House speaker Mike Johnson to abruptly switch course last week and allow a vote on the aid package came amid fierce objections from far-right Republicans

What’s in the aid package?

The bill allocates $60.84bn to support Ukraine in its battle to repel Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline have complained in recent months that they are completely outgunned and have been forced to ration ammunition.

The package includes $23.2bn to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities and $11.3bn for current US military operations in the region. The US does not have troops in Ukraine, but the Pentagon has been training Ukrainian troops elsewhere in the region.

The bill also provides more economic assistance to Ukraine in the form of “forgivable loans”. The idea of structuring aid as a loan is a key Trump policy proposal and is supported by a number of Republicans. However, the bill contains a provision for the president to forgive the loan starting in 2026.

The bill provides $26.38bn to support Israel, reimburse US military operations in response to recent attacks and provide humanitarian assistance to civilian victims of conflicts worldwide, including Palestinians in Gaza.

It prohibits funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides support to Palestinian refugees. The US was among the major donors to cut their funding to the agency in January, after allegations were raised by Israel that Unrwa staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack. On Monday, an independent review commissioned by the UN found Israel had yet to provide supporting evidence of its claims.

The bill would also provide $8.12bn to “counter communist China and ensure a strong deterrence in the region”.

That amount includes about $3.3bn to develop submarine infrastructure, plus $2bn in foreign military financing for Taiwan and other allies in the region,

In an effort to satisfy conservatives in his own party, Johnson included a fourth bill known as the 21st Century Peace through Strength Act that combines several national security initiatives.

It gives ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, up to a year to divest its US assets or face a ban on its app being available in America.

It would also allow the federal government to transfer frozen Russian sovereign assets to Ukraine and expand sanctions against Iran and its oil production.

How long has the aid package taken to pass?

Congress has been frozen for months in its efforts to approve military aid for Ukraine due to growing opposition among Republicans.

Over the last year the voices of isolationist Republicans have grown louder, bolstered by former president Donald Trump who has said foreign aid should be structured as a loan, not a “giveaway”, while calling into question America’s commitment to its Nato allies who are committed to Ukraine’s defence.

Efforts to pass legislation that would secure military assistance for Ukraine hit another barrier in 2023, as some Republicans began to insist that the foreign aid bill must be tied to addressing the needs at the US-Mexico border, where arrests for illegal crossings have hit record highs.

In February, the Senate voted to block the advancement of a bill that guaranteed foreign aid, while also providing new powers to shut down the border and expedite deportations.

Later that month the Senate stripped the US border provisions from the bill and passed a package broadly similar to the legislation passed by Congress on Tuesday.

Despite this legislation being approved in the Senate, Johnson continually refused to bring the bill to the floor of the House. Without the House voting to approve it, the bill remained stalled.

Last week, Johnson unveiled a new proposal which involved holding votes on three separate funding packages for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific – as well as a fourth bill that contains other Republican foreign policy proposals. After those bills passed in the House on Saturday, the four bills were combined into one package in the Senate.

Why are Republicans supporting the aid package now?

After Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, the White House and top Democrats and Republicans in the Senate called on Johnson to approve the Senate’s aid package, while the Speaker himself told Fox News that Republicans understood the “necessity of standing with Israel”.

At the same time, as US aid to Ukraine has stalled, Kyiv’s position on the battlefield has reached a perilous position. Insufficient ammunition and dwindling air defence missiles have left the country’s defences exposed.

According to reports in the Washington Post, Johnson’s opposition to Ukraine aid has changed since he became speaker and began to receive intelligence briefings more frequently.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a strong advocate for assisting Ukraine, expressed regret about the delay, while acknowledging it was largely due to hardline objections in his own party..

“I think we’ve turned the corner on the isolationist movement,” McConnell told a news conference on Tuesday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report