Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Senate Advances Ukraine Package
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Senate easily advanced a package of aid and sanctions in response to the Russian incursion into Ukraine on Monday, but a final deal is being bogged down by a controversial push to reform the International Monetary Fund. With the help of 26 Republicans, Ukraine bill cleared a key procedural vote on Monday on a 78-17 vote. That strong showing could collapse if Republicans don’t have an opportunity to offer and vote on amendments. Still, there are at least several GOP lawmakers who will likely support any Ukraine package, virtually ensuring final passage later this week. But the bill won’t get to President Barack Obama’s desk anytime soon because the House and Senate are at an impasse over including the IMF changes. The Senate bill includes the provision, which the Obama administration says is critical, but the House has already passed legislation that doesn’t include IMF-related language. A key House panel is slated to take up another package on Tuesday that again ignores the administration’s IMF push. The Senate package would shift $63 billion from the IMF’s crisis account to its general fund and make good on a 2010 agreement to give nations such as China, Brazil and India more influence at the organization. The Obama administration also says including the IMF reforms will help boost lending capacity to Ukraine. “I hear a lot of tough talk from Republicans about how America needs to send a stronger message to Ukraine about our solidarity,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who chairs a Senate panel on European policy, said Monday. “Well, IMF reform is part of that solidarity.” Though the Senate is likely to approve the package, the IMF changes caused plenty of consternation there. Many Republicans are seeking to delay new administration rules that crack down on political activity of tax-exempt nonprofits — called “501(c)(4)s” — in exchange for supporting the package. Democrats seized on that to accuse Republicans of blocking assistance to a nation in turmoil. “They said we will give the president the tools he needs to help the beleaguered people of Ukraine but only if — only if — [501(c)(4)] work by the International Revenue Service and the Treasury Department is stopped,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday, referring to congressional Republicans. “That’s pretty absurd, but that’s the truth.” Many congressional Republicans see the IMF changes as an unnecessary component of Ukraine aid and have either called on Democrats to drop their demand for the IMF provisions or floated the possibility of exchanging those reforms for delaying the campaign-finance rules. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday that while he supports the IMF language, he believes that it ultimately will be scrubbed from the bill. “The IMF can leverage more money for the Ukraine,” Graham said. “But if that has to fall, then I’d be OK with that.” Further irritating some Republican lawmakers is that the Senate Ukraine bill pays for the IMF changes by taking some funding away from certain Pentagon and State Department accounts. The bill’s authors said they came from government programs that were “underexecuting” but that pay-for still drew some Republican opposition to the package. The conservative Heritage Action for America announced on Monday it is lobbying lawmakers to vote against the Senate’s Ukraine bill because the IMF language is “unrelated to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and subsequent takeover of Crimea.” And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is preparing to offer an amendment on the Senate floor to remove the IMF language, an aide to the senator said Monday. Still, any push from Senate Republicans to erase those IMF provisions is unlikely to succeed on the Senate floor, aides said. Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee failed in their attempt to remove the language in committee and several Senate Republicans — despite their reservations about the IMF changes — have said they will still support the bill regardless. Among those lawmakers are Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee overseeing European affairs, and Marco Rubio of Florida. “Although I remain concerned by the proposed IMF reforms included in the legislation, the need to send a strong bipartisan message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine and a statement of resolve to Moscow far outweighs any misgivings I and others might have,” Rubio wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week. Even if they don’t succeed in stripping the IMF language, Republicans could drag out the process. If Republicans feel their amendments are being shut out, they could prevent a final vote from happening until as late as Friday. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are urging speedy action. “If we get hung up for another week or another how many hours because of our failure to act, in my view, [that] sends exactly the wrong signals,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain, a key GOP backer of the bill. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who opposes the bill because of its IMF provisions, said Monday that he wouldn’t object to timing or other procedural issues if he gets a vote on stripping out those reforms. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has released its own package of aid and sanctions against officials tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that essentially mirrors the Senate bill, but without the IMF provisions. The House panel will take up that bill on Tuesday, and the full House could act on the legislation later this week. Some Senate Republicans believe that Reid should follow suit and take up the House bill instead. GOP Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Cruz and Paul released a letter on Friday outlining their opposition to the IMF provisions and asking the Democrats to back down. “As we understand it, this reform would double the funds the IMF can loan, involving a doubling of the United States’ contribution from its current level of $63 billion, while simultaneously reducing U.S. influence over how these funds are directed — and increasing that of Russia,” the Senate Republicans wrote. “Regardless of the magnitude of this change, this idea is antithetical to the driving purpose of the underlying legislation.” The Treasury Department disputes that new funds will be allocated to the IMF by approving the reforms and says it instead shifts existing money among accounts. “The U.S. quota increase will be matched by an equal and permanent reduction in U.S. financial participation in the IMF’s emergency account, which was expanded during the global financial crisis, for no net change,” Treasury spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth Earnest said earlier this month.