U.S. bill on Ukraine delayed as Congress debates IMF, campaign finance

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 13, 2014 3:48 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate is unlikely to vote until later this month at the earliest on a bill providing aid to Ukraine, congressional aides said on Thursday, as lawmakers debated whether International Monetary Fund reforms should be included in the package.

Legislation including the IMF reforms, loan guarantees for Ukraine, sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians and economic aid for the new Kiev government was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

But the measure will not be considered by the full Senate until after Congress returns to Washington from a week-long recess, which begins on Friday, aides said. The measure would also have to pass the Republican-led House of Representatives, where it faces a difficult fight, before President Barack Obama could sign it into law.

House Speaker John Boehner urged the Senate on Thursday to pass a House version of a bill backing $1 billion in loan guarantees that does not include the other provisions of the Senate bill, particularly the IMF funding.

"The IMF money has nothing to do with Ukraine," Boehner said at his weekly news conference.

The Obama administration has strongly pushed the IMF reforms, but many Republicans worry about the IMF's lending to richer European countries and possible losses.


California Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would strongly oppose the package in the House, and referred to some money being reallocated from U.S. Army programs to pay for it.

"Senator (Robert) Menendez's bill to fund reforms at the IMF on the backs of our troops is just looney and I will strongly oppose it if it comes to the House," McKeon said in a statement.

Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Obama administration has been pushing Congress for a year to approve a shift of $63 billion from an IMF crisis fund to its general accounts to make good on a commitment from 2010 and maintain U.S. influence at the lender.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have all pressed for the shift at congressional hearings this week.

The Ukraine aid bill is also at risk of getting bogged down in a raging partisan battle over campaign finance reform.

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The Senate's top three Democrats - Majority Leader Harry Reid, Illinois Senator Richard Durbin and New York Senator Charles Schumer - accused Republicans on Thursday of holding it hostage to help the billionaires David and Koch, brothers who bankroll independent groups that back conservative political causes.

Some House Republicans have suggested that they would back the IMF measure in the Ukraine bill if the Obama administration ends its plans to reform the way such groups engage in political activity.

"This is hard for me to comprehend how with a clear conscience they can say, 'Ukrainians, we probably can't help you because we are trying to protect the Koch brothers,'" Reid said in comments dismissed by Republicans.

"And not only that," Reid added, "they are saying to the American people that protecting the Koch brothers is more important than protecting our country."

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, David Lawder and Phil Stewart; editing by G Crosse)