By Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reassured members of Congress on Thursday that the billions of dollars already approved for Ukraine should last for much of the year, and insisted that measures were in place to ensure it is well spent.
“I have 45 people at our embassy in Ukraine whose job is to oversee the expenditure of these monies,” Blinken told a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee at a hearing focused on the State Department budget request.
It was the fourth congressional hearing in two days with testimony from Blinken after President Joe Biden’s administration asked for an 11% increase in the department’s budget in his fiscal 2024 budget request.
A handful of Republican lawmakers have questioned the amount of money sent to Kyiv, 13 months after Russia’s invasion, given gaping U.S. budget deficits and talk of cuts in domestic programs.
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Representative Tim Burchett, a Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, asked Blinken why U.S. funds are going to pay pensions in Ukraine when there is talk about funding for the Medicare government health insurance system.
Some lawmakers also have worried the money is being lost to corruption and that other nations are not doing enough.
Blinken acknowledged the “generosity of American taxpayers,” but said the burden had been shared by more than 50 other countries.
The United States has committed $32 billion of security assistance for Ukraine, but $22 billion has been committed by other countries. And Washington has provided about $15.5 billion in economic support, while other countries had sent $24 billion. And Washington has sent $2 billion in humanitarian assistance, but other countries have sent $3.5 billion, Blinken said.
“If we pulled the plug on that, either ourselves or allies and partners, it would have disastrous consequences for Ukraine,” Blinken said.
“We do have real burden-sharing when it comes to Ukraine,” he said, also noting that European countries have taken in about 8 million refugees.
Congress passed a spending bill in December that included $45 billion in new emergency aid for Ukraine.
Blinken would not say exactly when the administration might need to come back to the Senate and the House to ask for more funds.
“The last supplemental carries us through much of this year,” he said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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