Lawmakers are questioning the Pentagon about funds in Ukraine, signaling new concerns

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress on Tuesday sharply questioned senior Pentagon officials about the tens of billions of dollars in military and other aid the United States has sent to Ukraine, raising new doubts about whether they would accept future spending, since the Democrats called for a clear assessment of how much more money is needed.

The exchanges at two House Committee hearings, held just days after the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlighted how concerns about the high cost of shipping arms to Kiev have increased on Capitol Hill. The growing doubts have threatened a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of aid and could make it more difficult for the Biden administration to get congressional approval for funds to top up its military aid accounts. The funding turning point could come as soon as this summer, months earlier than previously expected.

The hearings also showed how members of both parties, despite their confidence that a majority in Congress remains committed to supporting Ukraine, are concerned that a determined minority — including right-wing Republicans, who shun U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts, and anti-war liberal Democrats – which could be weakened if the war drags on.

“We’re all concerned about accountability,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican who has supported Ukraine funding projects in the past, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. “Please, let’s release this so the American people can have confidence in what the spending is.”

Tensions were visible Tuesday when Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican and outspoken critic of Ukraine’s funding, questioned a senior Defense Department official about allegations of lost and diverted weapons, whistleblowing and fraud.

“Responsibility for consigned weapons is absolutely paramount, especially for the most sensitive weapons, to ensure they are used for their intended purpose and not diverted to nefarious purposes,” Mr. Clyde told Robert P. Storch, the Pentagon’s inspector general .

Mr. Storch and other Pentagon officials testified that there had been no substantiated instances of sensitive weapons being diverted to improper purposes, but his testimonies did not silence critics.

However, Mr. Clyde’s questions were conspicuous as he does not have a seat on the Armed Services Committee. He was invited to attend by the chairman, Rep. Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, a staunch supporter of providing military aid to Ukraine. Mr. Rogers offered Mr. Clyde the bulk of his Question Time barbecue after noting that record-breaking military support required “an unprecedented level of congressional oversight.”

Pledges to send tanks, the grueling nature of the war on the ground, and a steady clamor from certain corners of Congress to greenlight advanced systems for Ukraine threatened to siphon off war funds faster than appropriators expected last December, when the Lawmakers approved about $45 billion in military and other aid that was expected to last through the end of September.

The high cost of war has prompted Congress to issue a series of oversight requirements for information on how the money was spent. Some of these details have been made available to lawmakers, but few have reached the public.

The mounting spending and lack of detailed information have fueled the resolve of several naysayers, who have doubled down this week with a campaign to brand Ukraine’s bailout program a failed candy, with party leaders’ apparent tacit blessings.

“You can’t testify that we have complied with end-use monitoring requirements at all times during this conflict, can you?” insisted Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz accused Mr. Storch of dodging.

Democrats also voiced concerns Tuesday, imploring Pentagon leaders to be honest about how much more money lawmakers could expect to get Ukraine approved.

“How often do you think Congress needs to provide assistance?” Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, asked Colin H. Kahl, the undersecretary for defense policy, during his appearance before the Armed Services Panel. “In the end, what do you think is the endgame?”

The poll was echoed by some Democrats on the House Appropriations Panel, which oversees military spending, and asked similar questions to Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

“How much higher would the bill be?” asked Hawaii Democrat Rep. Ed Case, expressing concern at the government’s successive requests for more aid. “We must at least reckon with the possibility that next year we will see a higher bill.”

Pentagon leaders were reluctant to commit to a number or timeline by which they would seek additional funds, saying the vagaries of war made it impossible to commit to a timetable.

“I have no idea if it would be higher or lower; All I know is that we are planning the kind of effective deterrent forces that Ukraine will need,” Ms. Wallander said.

Mr. Kahl suggested calls by some lawmakers to increase military aid to Ukraine could further complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to sustain the war effort.

Over the past week, the bipartisan group of House members calling on President Biden to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets more than tripled in size. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a member of the group and former Air Force officer, begged Mr. Kahl to explain why programs to train Ukrainian pilots to operate the systems had not begun.

Mr. Kahl insisted it would save no time, estimating that it would take about 18 months to train Ukrainian pilots to use the F-16 jets, which was also the shortest timeframe predicted by the Pentagon for their deployment.

“There’s no point in training them on a system that they might never get,” he said, noting that while F-16s are a priority for Ukraine, “it’s not one of their top three priorities.”

He also said that even older F-16 models would be costly to ship, totaling $2 to $3 billion for about 36 aircraft, which would fall short of the 50 to 80 the Pentagon estimated Ukraine would need to ship to modernize their existing air force.

“That would use up a large portion of the remaining security support we have for this fiscal year,” Mr. Kahl noted while going through the numbers. “Those are the tradeoffs we make in real time.” Lawmakers are questioning the Pentagon about funds in Ukraine, signaling new concerns

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