By Jeremy Herb and Kristina Wong - 03/25/14 06:32 PM EDT
The Topline: U.S. aid for Ukraine advanced on Tuesday as Senate Democrats dropped their demand that International Monetary Fund reforms be included in a Ukraine aid package.
Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed on a bipartisan voice-vote a bill authorizing Ukraine aid and Russia sanctions without the IMF language.
The House bill also expands the criteria for Russia sanctions, adding Russian officials who engage in corruption to the sanctions list.
The Senate aid package will pave the way for $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, provides $150 million in aid for Ukraine and neighboring countries and authorizes sanctions on Russia.
The White House had backed IMF reforms, but House lawmakers refused to pass an aid bill with the reforms, which called for shifting $63 billion from an IMF crisis fund to its general accounts.
“As much as I think a majority of the Senate would like to have gotten that done with IMF in it, it was headed to nowhere in the House,” Senate Majority Leader Reid said.
Congress to block NSA from storing calls: The House Intelligence Committee has introduced new legislation that will prevent the U.S. government from collecting and storing phone records or any other types of bulk electronic communications without a warrant.
The House bill would require phone companies to continue to retain records, but not beyond the 18 months allowed under current law. The NSA currently holds onto the phone data for five years.
The bill does not require a court order before agents can search the records but would have a court approve procedures to collect the records and have a “prompt review” after federal agents grab the records. Improperly collected records would be expunged.
“We think that we have found a way to end the government’s bulk collection of telephone metadata and still provide a mechanism to protect the Untied States and track those terrorists who are calling into the United States to commit acts of terror,” Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said at a press conference unveiling the bill.
Pentagon spent billions on Benghazi probes: The Pentagon told Congress that it has spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours complying with congressional investigations of the September 2012 Benghazi attack.
The Pentagon provided the estimates after they were requested by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Smith urged Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to stop participating in the “witch hunt” and drop the investigations into the terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi.
“We must stop wasting this committee’s and our military’s scarce resources chasing a scandal that does not exist,” Smith wrote in a letter to McKeon.
“More than any other committee in Congress, this committee should understand the financial strain on the Department of Defense, which is being made worse by these ongoing and ridiculous investigations,” he said.
McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin said that the chairman appreciated Smith’s concerns. But he said it was “important that the Committee see this oversight effort through to its conclusion.”
The House Armed Services investigation did fault the military’s posture in the lead-up to the Benghazi attack, but it also debunked accusations that a military “stand-down” had been ordered.
House GOP won’t boost defense spending in budget: The 2015 House Republican budget will abide by the defense spending caps that were agreed to in the December 2013 budget deal, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
Boehner said that the budget would not seek to boost defense spending in the 2015 budget in the wake of the Russian invasion in Crimea.
The two-year budget deal reached in December put a $521 billion cap on defense spending, not including war funding, as well as a $492 billion cap on non-defense spending.
Boehner was asked about defense spending in 2015 level and whether it would be be subject to sequester in the six years afterward.
“I don’t know that we’re far enough along in that project to make that determination. In terms of the spending for defense in this year, I believe that we’ll abide by the budget agreement that we’ve already made,” Boehner said.
House Budget CommitteeChairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to release his budget resolution next week.
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