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Biden administration asks Congress for billions as costs for Afghan refugees, natural disasters pile up

Thousands still trying to flee Afghanistan
"Tens of thousands" of Afghans still trying to flee country, human rights group says 07:21

The Biden administration on Tuesday called on Congress to pass tens of billions of dollars in funding to keep the federal government running as lawmakers work to pass its annual budget legislation. Government funding runs out at the end of the month as the new fiscal year starts in October. 

As part of the temporary funding measure, known as a so-called continuing resolution, the administration is also requesting additional money to address what administration officials called urgent needs: the response to natural disasters as well as the relocation of thousands of Afghan allies after the Taliban took over the country as the U.S. withdrew last month.

The administration is seeking $6.4 billion for sites to process Afghan allies overseas and in the U.S. as well as for security screenings and humanitarian assistance. An administration official said the funding request will support plans for as many as 65,000 vulnerable Afghans to arrive in the U.S. by the end of September and up to 30,000 additional Afghans over the following 12 months. 

That money includes $2.4 billion for the Defense Department; $1.3 billion for the State Department, for help with refugee resettlement; $815 million for USAID, for humanitarian assistance; $193 million for the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to ramp up its capacity to process Afghans and put them on the pathway to legal permanent residence; and $1.7 billion for the Health and Human Services Department to help Afghans build new lives in the U.S. 

"The operation to move out of danger and to safety tens of thousands of Afghans at risk, including many who helped us during our two decades in Afghanistan, represents an extraordinary military, diplomatic, security, and humanitarian operation by the U.S. Government," White House Office of Budget Management Acting Director Shalanda Young wrote Tuesday.

At the same time, the administration is also asking for billions to respond to natural disasters. It includes $14 billion for disasters from the last 18 months prior to the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida with storms such as Hurricanes Laura and Delta, as well as wildfires and more. Officials are also seeking at least $10 billion for the Hurricane Ida recovery, which could increase as the destruction caused by the storm is further assessed, officials said. President Joe Biden traveled to New York and New Jersey on Tuesday to meet with those devastated by the storm. 

"The Administration is committed to delivering the funds necessary to help impacted states and tribes recover from recent extreme weather events and natural disasters," Young wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer welcomed the request for emergency disaster relief on Tuesday as part of an extension of government funding, saying the Senate will begin working with Republicans to enact it by the end of September.

"Given the scale and scope of these natural disasters, everyone must work together to get Americans the help they desperately need," he said in a statement. 

But any funding request is likely to face hurdles on Capitol Hill. A deeply divided Congress is set to embark on a heated debate over trillions in funding for the next fiscal year and other priorities outlined by the president that would impact every aspect of American life for years to come.

The Biden administration is pressing for a $3.5 trillion package addressing affordable education, childcare, health care, climate change and more. The president and Democrats want to pay for it by taxing the largest businesses and wealthiest Americans. 

Republicans have pushed back on the entire effort — with no GOP lawmakers expected to support the massive reconciliation package. Some centrist Democrats are also raising concerns. 

"I've never seen a bigger threat to America fundamentally than this bill I just described," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday in Kentucky of the reconciliation package. He said they'd be "slugging it out" on the floor in the next couple of months over it, and they're not negotiating.

At the same time, Mr. Biden has faced a torrent of criticism over how the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan played out, and there are ongoing questions over the efforts to help Americans and Afghan allies still seeking to get out of the country moving forward. 

Lawmakers will also need to suspend or raise the debt limit to allow the federal government to keep paying its bills and avoid defaulting on its obligations. The last suspension of the debt limit expired at the end of July, forcing the Biden administration to resort to so-called "extraordinary measures" to keep the government funded, but those mechanisms are only estimated to last for the next several weeks before the U.S is unable to meet its financial obligations. When asked about plans to address the debt ceiling, administration officials said Tuesday they would not get ahead of the legislative process but fully expected Congress to act promptly and in a partisan way, as they had under the previous administration. 

Administration officials would also not say how long they anticipated the government funding extension would be needed.

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