A push by Senate Democrats to tie a controversial funding provision to a Ukraine-aid bill could thwart the popular resolution's chances of becoming law.
Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, plans to bring a comprehensive Ukraine package before the panel Wednesday that includes a measure to empower the International Monetary Fund to offer more aid to nations in crisis like Ukraine.
"My goal would be to have an IMF provision in it, and we will see where the debate lies as a result of that," Menendez said Tuesday. "It's never over till it's exactly over, but we should be there."
A Senate Republican leadership aide said that the controversy over the IMF provision—which is supported by the administration but opposed by many Republicans—could further drag out the process and make it harder to enact the Ukraine legislation before lawmakers leave town next week.
The House has already passed its aid package for Ukraine, which did not include the IMF provision. The chamber is expected to put up a fight over including it now.
A key problem with including the IMF provision in the Ukraine package is that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner want to use it as leverage with President Obama, according to a Republican senator who asked not to be named in order to speak more freely. They want to trade the IMF reform sought by the Treasury Department for turning around a proposed change in the tax code that would make it harder for social-welfare organizations to contribute to the political process.
"The reason why it is controversial is because McConnell and Boehner want the … outside contributions taken care of by Treasury in exchange for an IMF fix," the senator said.
IMF funding is a long-stalled priority of the Obama administration, which wants to transfer money from the IMF's crisis account to its general fund. A change is intended to complete a set of reforms from 2010, which could allow the IMF to increase resources available for aid and increase the responsibility and influence of emerging economies at the IMF.
"I'm concerned that all you do is a package that has a very short benefit and doesn't deal with some of the critical issues," Menendez said of the House bill.
Several members of the Foreign Relations Committee from both parties said Tuesday that they expected some version of the IMF provision to be included in the aid package, but said they had not been privy to the latest details. And several Republicans said they would have to see the final version before they could take a stance on the implications of an IMF measure.
Democrats are largely on board with the administration's goal, but Senate Republicans offered mixed views.
Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia—neither of whom serve on the Foreign Relations Committee—said they support including the IMF provision.
Graham said the return on investment for the United States is worth it.
"If you don't want to use military force all the time, which I do not; if you want to get ahead of dangerous movements in the world; if you want to reinforce people who are helpful to you change behavior; IMF is the way to do it," he said. "I hope it is in the package."
But Graham added he knows some in his party are wary of foreign aid.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who serves on the committee, said the provision was unnecessarily adding partisan drama to an issue where U.S. policymakers should be "unified" and "speak with one voice" in supporting the Ukraine and condemning Russia for its incursion.
"We shouldn't be doing that. There are many controversial elements to that.… You are reducing power, you are increasing funding, there are a number of aspects of that bill that conservatives would not support," he said.
Still, Johnson said he needed to review the final details before deciding how he would vote.
Sen. John McCain echoed Johnson's sentiment on unnecessary controversy. He argued that although he supports the IMF change, he believes the Ukraine package should be passed and finished this week before Congress adjourns, whether or not the language is included.
"It would be disgraceful if we let that kind of dispute prevent the Congress of the United States acting on this," he said. "The IMF language … pales in comparison to the imperative for us to act in light of the invasion of a sovereign nation, which is what Vladimir Putin has just done.… I'm not going to let IMF stand in the way of a reaction of Congress on an invasion of a country, and if others do, then they have their priorities terribly skewed."
Jordain Carney contributed to this article.
This article appears in the March 12, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.