Why It's So Hard For Congress to Act on Ukraine
Congress takes recess next week, which means the Senate has very little time to pass legislation on Ukraine. And there are already several obstacles in the way.
A race against the clock is taking place in Washington this week as Congress tries to pass a legislative package on Ukraine before recess begins on Friday. But a number of controversies — whether to send aid, whether to punish Russia, concerned American businesses, potential fracking amendments — threaten to stall Senate action for even longer.
In the first congressional response to the crisis last week, a Ukraine aid package was passed in the House with a vote of 385 to 23, but now the Senate must decide their next steps. The House bill, H.R. 4152, provides $1 billion in loan guarantees to the new Ukrainian government. While several lawmakers have spoken out about their ideas on how to deal with Russia and how to help Ukraine, they now have a matter of days to get anything productive done.
Sen. Bob Corker has said that Wednesday looks like a realistic decision day for legislation, but it remains unclear right now what, if anything, can actually be done. On the hill, one GOP aide says that best way to get thing done this week is to pass the House-passed bill, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. Unsurprisingly, it's not that simple, and there is no scheduled vote on a Senate bill just yet.
A Bigger Loan for Ukraine Through the IMF
A major point of contention has been whether to include International Monetary Fund reforms in a future Senate bill. IMF assistance was requested by President Obama and the Treasury Department, and Obama's 2015 budget plan would increase the U.S. quota at the organization by $63 billion, which will be transferred from an existing credit line. This means that Ukraine's loan limits would rise by 60 percent, allowing them to access $1.6 billion instead of $1 billion, a possibility that House Republicans aren't thrilled about. Republicans, already wary of the IMF, are concerned about the loss of American influence and "taxpayer exposure" as loan limits rise, reports Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times.
The U.S. is also delaying the implementation of a 2010 agreement by all IMF member countries to increase the organization's lending capacity to $733 billion, and giving emerging markets like China more clout, Bloomberg's Kathleen Hunter and James Rowley report.
Do Sanctions Against Russia Make Sense?
It's possible that the Senate bill will include some form of sanctions against Russia, although The Hill reports that House Republicans are less than enthusiastic. Some European countries, including France and Germany, are reluctant to pass sanctions because of their reliance on Russian energy. A House vote on a non-binding sanctions measure is scheduled for Tuesday, and suggestions for sanctions include a U.S. boycott of the G-8 Summit in Sochi in June.
Republican Rep. Ed Royce wants any eventual sanctions to be “crippling,” Politico's Seung Min Kim reports. “The action by Russia cannot go unchallenged,” Royce said.
American Businesses Get Nervous Over Sanctions
The proposition of placing sanctions on Russia has caused some U.S. companies to voice their concerns over their consequences. According to Alexander Bolton at The Hill, companies with significant business interests in Russia include Boeing, Ford Motor Co., Pepsico and General Electric. U.S. trade sanctions on Russia amount to $40 billion, while Europe's trade sanctions amount to $460 billion.
Republican Push Their Domestic Energy Agenda
House Speaker John Boehner already floated the idea of increasing natural gas exports to put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but now some Republicans seem to be trying to hitch domestic energy provisions to the Ukraine package. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso will introduce an amendment that would speed up exports of domestic liquefied natural gas to Ukraine and NATO countries. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is also advocating for decreased dependence on Russian oil by ramping up U.S. exports.
Paul believes that the U.S. should suspend loans to Ukraine as it could inadvertently benefit Russia. “We should also suspend American loans and aid to Ukraine because currently these could have the counterproductive effect of rewarding Russia. Ukraine owes so much money to Russia that American would essentially be borrowing from China to give to Russia,” Paul wrote in an op-ed in Time magazine.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said the energy issue is “unlikely to be resolved” in the pending Ukraine deal, according to Seung Min Kim at Politico. Murphy also said that it might be “tough” to pass legislation before the scheduled congressional recess.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and on Thursday, Kerry will appear in front of the Senate appropriations subcommittee overseeing funding for the State Department, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.