There’s a surprising amount of agreement from lawmakers in Washington about how to proceed in the Ukraine crisis: punish Russia with more sanctions while extending a loan guarantee to the interim Ukrainian government and taking other steps to get them back on their feet.
But when President Obama meets with world leaders during a trip to Europe this week to discuss the next step from the international community, he will do so with a Congress that is still deadlocked on the finer points of writing sanctions and aid into law.
The House and Senate return Monday, a week after they left town without passing any legislation addressing Ukraine. While they were away, the situation worsened: residents of the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine, and Russia moved to annex the region. Mr. Obama announced fresh sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials, but it hasn’t stopped Russian troops from are massing on Ukraine’s eastern border.
But it’s unclear whether the threat of further Russian incursion in Ukraine will push Congress to move more quickly this week. At issue is whether or not a bill with loan guarantees and fresh sanctions should also include reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that have been sought by the White House.
Congressman Bill Owens says congress is ready to push ahead if Russia decides to move troops into Ukraine and attempts to take over the entire country..
The 2010 reforms would shift $63 billion in U.S. funding into the IMF’s general fund from its crisis fund, which would allow the body to lend more money and increase the representation of emerging countries. Though the changes at the IMF have Republican critics in both chambers, the reforms have more supporters in the Senate than the House, where Speaker John Boehner has criticized the reforms as having “nothing to do with Ukraine.”
The Senate bill that authorizes a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine includes both IMF reforms and preparation for further sanctions against Ukrainians and Russians who were involved in the separation of Crimea from the rest of Ukraine.
The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., introduced legislation Friday that mirrors the Senate bill, but omits the IMF reforms. The hope is that the measure will bring the two chambers together.
“I’m for IMF reform but if it’s going to delay the money to the Ukraine I think it needs to be rethought,” Engel said, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who traveled to Ukraine last week, told the newspaper it wouldn’t make a difference.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on a conference call last week that for lawmakers to allow the IMF reforms to hold up action on Ukraine would be “incredible.” He’s optimistic the House will ultimately back the reforms.
The White House, meanwhile, is standing by its push to have the IMF changes included.
“If the lawmakers of both parties believe, as the president does, that we need to maximize the assistance we can provide to Ukraine, the way to do that is to pass legislation that includes these reforms, these quota reforms at the IMF, because that will increase the flexibility and leverage that the IMF has to provide assistance to Ukraine,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday.”The bilateral assistance that we envision providing and that Congress supports generally in providing, the loan guarantee program, is a piece of and a complement to the more substantial assistance that the IMF can provide and should provide.”
The reforms are the most divisive issue. Otherwise, there appears to be a broad consensus on how the U.S. should proceed: with caution, with sanctions from both the U.S. and European Union, and without putting boots on the ground in Ukraine. There is even an emerging bloc of support for providing small arms to Ukraine, a move that both Durbin and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said they were considering on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.