House, Senate approve aid to help Ukraine

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 27, 2014 

— Congress presented a rare unified front Thursday as the Senate and the House of Representatives each passed aid and sanctions packages for Ukraine in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

After nearly two weeks of partisan bickering and infighting among Republicans, senators passed their Ukraine package by voice vote. The House approved its legislation on a 399-19 vote.

The chambers are working to reconcile minor difference between the two bills and hope to send one for President Barack Obama to sign soon.

“I think (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will understand the consequences of miscalculating further,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Each bill provides $1 billion in loan guarantees to financially and politically fragile Ukraine in the wake of Putin’s decision to use troops to take over Crimea.

“This bill is a first step toward supporting the Ukrainians and our Central and Eastern European partners, and imposing truly significant costs on Moscow,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Senators approved an amendment in their bill by Menendez and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking Republican, which would spend more than $100 million to promote democracy and enhance security in Ukraine.

It also would impose sanctions against those involved in undermining Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, freeze assets and revoke visas of those involved in corruption in Ukraine, and authorizes sanctions on Russian officials engaged in corruption in Ukraine or Russia.

While Democrats and Republicans in both chambers agreed that Ukraine needed U.S. assistance, the political parties disagreed on the approach to achieving that goal.

The Senate’s initial bill contained a provision to overhaul the International Monetary Fund. The measure would have moved $63 billion from the IMF’s crisis fund to its general fund and reshuffle its board of directors to give nations such as Russia, China, Brazil and India a greater voice.

The White House wanted the measure to make good on a promise Obama made in 2010. But conservative Republicans balked at the provision, saying it was unrelated to the crisis in Ukraine.

The House Ukraine bill didn’t contain an IMF measure. In the Senate, the provision splintered Republicans. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida maintained that the proposed IMF overhaul wasn’t significant enough to stop Republicans from supporting the bill.

But Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas disagreed and co-authored a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week threatening to object to the Ukraine aid bill unless he allowed a vote to strip out the IMF provision.

Reid yanked the provision from the Senate bill earlier this week after concluding it would further stall getting aid to from Washington to Ukraine quickly if it stayed in.

“It was evident that the IMF reforms were not going to make it through the House and actually become law, and we felt it was incredibly important that all of us speak in a united voice,” said Corker, who supported the proposed IMF changes.

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