In June of this year, Congress ended a “budget war” that brought the U.S. to the brink of a technical default. Then, almost miraculously, this economic tragedy was avoided, but, as it turned out, the “budget war” became a way of life for Congress and the White House in their regular interactions. Already on September 1, the influential right-wing Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene openly announced her refusal to fund the work of the U.S. government. To begin with, she demanded to launch impeachment proceedings against Biden, roll back his reforms and cut off military tranches to Ukraine. The White House at that time hastily hired lawyers to fend off all accusations against both the president himself and his son Hunter. But in addition to impeachment at the worst possible time, there was also the threat of a U.S. government shutdown if a budget could not be passed by September 30. And against the backdrop of a sharp political split in America, it was quite likely that the battles around Ukraine would lead to a stalemate scenario with the October shutdown and the subsequent attempt to impeach Biden.
Against this backdrop, Washington was desperate to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. Almost immediately, the Republicans presented a short-term budget, hoping to buy time until October 31. Now it seems that they will have to live like this permanently, and month by month they will have to find a budget compromise to cover current spending before the start of a new round of confrontation. The proposed federal budget was supposed to cut government spending by 8% in all components except defense. But at the same time, it was completely devoid of spending on Ukraine, which became a fundamental demand of the right-wing faction of Republicans, the main critics of the involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which they considered a personal project of Biden. At that moment, Biden’s opponents had one more excuse, the mysterious disappearance of a $100+ million F-35B fighter jet that had gone somewhere on autopilot. Republicans were asking the simple question that if the Pentagon under Biden can’t even find its own fighter jet, it can’t seriously account for the Ukrainian tranches either. But the White House was not going to pass a budget with such a cut in spending on Ukraine, even though the U.S. budget deficit had already exceeded $2 trillion. Everyone understood that this was not a financial, but a political issue. As a result, on September 19, Congress was unable to pass a budget with spending cuts of even 8%, although the right-wing faction of Republicans demanded even greater cost optimization. Expectedly, the White House flatly refused to reduce government spending.
In mid-September, the Pentagon began to prepare for a U.S. government shutdown, realizing that budget constraints would not bypass military spending. For the military, this was complicated by the situation of the war in Ukraine, in which the U.S. was increasingly drawn as the main sponsor and engine of Ukrainian army activity. Importantly, during previous shutdowns, the Pentagon suspended all training of troops and National Guard forces, although it continued to conduct localized anti-terrorist operations. In the case of a shutdown, the training of Ukrainians by American instructors could stop indefinitely. Right now, 200 Ukrainians are being hastily trained to operate Abrams M1 tanks, and several dozen pilots have been brought to Arizona to learn to fly F-16s. At the same time, Pentagon apparatchiks promise to continue military tranches to Kiev, but the Ukrainian budget is almost depleted, and they have only a few billion dollars left on their hands, which will have to be somehow stretched over the next few months. The White House has promised to deliver 12 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in the near future, but otherwise Biden’s team now wants to rely on the Europeans, demanding that they supply their air defense systems before the “budget wars” in Washington are over.
On September 21, lawmakers again failed to approve a new budget, and even refused to allocate money to the Pentagon, which was logical. Average Republicans still demanded drastic cuts in government spending, while the establishment opposed them in every possible way. The cornerstone was Ukraine, which became the object of Republican hatred, symbolizing the whole Biden policy, which they tried to break and discredit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was not allowed to address Congress this time, so he went in the back door and met informally with militarists from both parties, trying to lobby for new tranches for Kiev. But in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Zelensky was asked very uncomfortable questions about what Ukraine’s goals were and how it wanted to succeed if the offensive against the Russian army failed. And the main question that none of the Ukrainian lobbyists could really answer was where they hope to be in 12 months, at the height of the U.S. presidential race. While chaos reigns in Congress, for his part Trump has become more active. He has announced that he intends to reduce the U.S. military presence abroad and direct troops to fight migrants. Many Republicans are thinking the same thing, seeking to secure the U.S. southern border rather than Ukraine or unknown countries on the other side of the world.
As a result, the last day in Congress before the weekend, September 22, ended in an unusually hectic manner. Lawmakers left for vacation, having not really dealt with the “budget wars” when there were nine days left before the U.S. government shutdown. On the same day, the White House received the indirect culprit of the crisis, Zelensky, but flatly refused to answer journalists’ questions. Biden announced a new $325 million military aid package against the background that the following packages were in doubt. It is indicative that if in the last visit of Zelensky in December 2022 Ukraine was allocated $1.8 billion at once, then in September 5 times less. The Pentagon fears disruptions in arms deliveries during the shutdown, and the military department has only a few billions left on hand for tranches to Ukraine, which is why it is making thoughtful savings. But this was only the beginning of the fall “budget war”. Its main battles took place in October and November, as a result of which the Speaker of the House of Representatives even lost his post. However, we will talk about this in the second part of our article.