Giving Aid to Ukraine Is About to Get a Lot More Complicated

A woman cries as she stay on Kiev's Independence Square on February 25, 2014. Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the 'mass murder' of protesters and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse. The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation's new Western-leaning team -- approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader go into hiding -- came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kiev to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
March 11, 2014, 2:12 p.m.

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.
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