Senate panel passes Ukraine bill

Lauren Schneiderman

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved legislation granting aid to Ukraine and authorizing sanctions on Russia in a 14-3 vote.

Four Republicans voted for the bill despite International Monetary Reform provisions opposed by some conservatives.

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“We need to stand with the Ukrainian people to choose their own destiny without Russian interference,” Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the panel's ranking member, and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) joined the panel's Democrats in backing the bill.

“I believe we are at a defining moment right now,” said Corker, who negotiated the final draft. “Our friends and allies in the region are watching.”

It will be difficult, however, for Congress to complete its work on the bill before lawmakers leave for a recess on Friday. 

Legislation passed by the House does not include the IMF provisions, and the pace of action in the Senate will be slowed if conservatives, as expected, refuse to agree to move the bill forward by unanimous consent. 

That means there would be no action by Congress on aid to Ukraine before Sunday, when a referendum in Crimea will be held on whether that region should divorce Ukraine for Russia.

President Obama called for swift action to sure up Ukraine’s economy in the wake of Russia’s military incursion into Crimea. On Wednesday, the White House again called on Congress to act swiftly as it hosted Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

“We want to see Congress act on it quickly,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday. “I think it's important to get it done absolutely as soon as possible.”

The fight over the IMF provisions concerns reforms to the organization long sought by the administration that would increase voting rights to Brazil, India and China.

Conservatives oppose the change because they say it would reduce U.S. influence in the organization. They also noted it would increase voting rights for Russia, the country the U.S. is seeking to sanction.

“This legislation is supposed to be about assisting Ukraine and punishing Russia, and the IMF measure completely undercuts both of these goals by giving Putin's Russia something it wants,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who missed the vote because he was in Florida for jury duty.

Corker argued that the share increase for Russia is small, going from a 2.5 percent to 2.7 percent stake. 

But it is unclear whether the House will accept that language.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged the Senate to simply pass a bill granting $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine, which the House passed last week. The Senate bill includes that aid in addition to the IMF and sanctions language.

While Corker argued that the $315 million cost of the bill is fully paid for, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) objected to cuts to Army and Air Force procurement that are used to pay for the IMF provisions.

Johnson offered an unsuccessful amendment to strip the IMF language. GOP Sens. Jim Risch (Idaho), Rand Paul (Ky.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.) voted for the amendment and against the final bill.

Paul said he does not support the loan assistance because it would be paid to Russia and Russia’s gas company. 

He offered a separate amendment stripping out both the loan guarantees and IMF provisions but it failed on a voice vote.

Barrasso offered an amendment to expand gas exports to Ukraine but it was ruled outside the jurisdiction of the committee. He vowed to offer it on the Senate floor. 

The bill approved by the panel would freeze assets and deny visas to people involved in the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and in violating that country’s “territorial integrity.”

It would also freeze assets and deny visas to those involved in suppressing Ukrainian protests or who were involved in “significant” corruption.

McCain successfully offered an amendment to broaden the sanctions to apply to corrupt officials throughout Russia.

—This story was updated at 4:53 p.m.