Ukraine aid bill clears the House

The House on Thursday approved legislation that would allow the Obama administration to provide loan guarantees to Ukraine.

After a quick debate, the House voted for the bill 385-23, with the only "no" votes coming from Republicans.

The hastily written bill, H.R. 4152, is seen by many as a first step toward shoring up Ukraine's economy, which was faltering even before Russia's military intervention this week.

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The legislation from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) would let the U.S. back up to $1 billion in Ukrainian loans that will help the country's government continue to operate while in transition. The guarantees could help Ukraine obtain energy resources in the face of reduced Russian subsidies, and otherwise pay its bills during what is likely to be an uncertain few weeks.

The parliament of Crimea, the Ukraine peninsula that Russian troops have occupied, has already voted to join Russia, and a referendum on that question is set for March 16. President Obama on Thursday said the move would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law.

Members of the House said the last week's events demand that the U.S. come to the aid of Ukraine.

"As a valued partner and friend of the United States, our nation has a duty to provide the people of Ukraine with help when they now need it most," Rogers said during a brief House debate on the bill, H.R. 4152.

"This bill will provide some stability for the government and the people of Ukraine as they navigate through these troubled waters."

Members of both parties praised the bill, including Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who said she backs the Obama administration's ideas for a broader package.

"Now is the time for us to support the people of Ukraine," she said. "I strongly support President Obama's comprehensive aid package to support Ukraine, which includes $1 billion in loan guarantees, technical assistance on trade, and recovery of stolen assets."

Democrats have said the Ukraine crisis should lead to a restructuring of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in order to allow more aid to Ukraine.

Republicans so far have not allowed those changes, but Lowey said Ukraine is a good example of why they should reconsider.

"This crisis illustrates the importance of the IMF to our national and global security interests, and I hope the final assistance package we enact for Ukraine will include support for the IMF," she said. 

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