It is hard to disagree with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, when he said after the last minute deal to avoid a government shutdown that “we can’t keep doing the same thing to solve the problem.” Narrowly avoiding a closure of parts of the US federal government and the non-payment of wages to at least two million military personnel via a temporary deal hammered together at the eleventh hour is, indeed, no way to run a country. As the bill only funds government until November 17th, the issue has just been glossed over and big decisions remain to be made.
McCarthy, whose position is now under threat from the right wing of his own party, managed to put together the deal with hours to spare, largely by dropping – or at least postponing – Republican demands for big spending cuts. Part of the agreement involved dropping $6 billion in additional aid to Ukraine. Both the last-minute agreement and the jettisoning of the Ukraine funding came as a surprise to most in Washington and how this will now play out is hard to predict.
President Joe Biden moved to assure Ukraine of American’s continuing support, saying the “vast majority of both parties” wanted this to happen. But some uncertain politics lies ahead, with McCarthy and other senior Republicans tying the Ukraine package to new measures to control migration on America’s southern border.
Biden said that US support for Ukraine cannot “under any circumstances” be interrupted. But there is opposition for more help to Ukraine among more radical Republicans in the House, many of them aligned to former president Donald Trump. While funding may be secured for now through a separate bill, Kyiv may start to question the likely extent and duration of support from Washington.
Senior EU figures this weekend underlined their commitment to continuing to provide support, but the victory of populist candidate Robert Fico in this weekend’s election in Slovakia will add another anti-Ukraine voice alongside Hungary’s Viktor Orban around the EU table.
In Washington, the dust will take some time to settle after the weekend’s surprising turn of events. McCarthy, only elected as House Speaker after a succession of votes, looks set to face a challenge to his position over the coming days.
The White House, meanwhile, will have to try to broker a compromise which allows ongoing support for Ukraine. How far it will go to meet Republican demands in relation to the US border and other issues remains to be seen. The clock is already ticking ahead of November 17th, when the current deal runs out and a threatened shutdown may again come into focus, with all the potential disruption and uncertainty that would entail. Biden is right when he says it is time to stop “governing by crisis.”