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03.12.14

GOP Senators Line Up Against Ukraine Aid Bill

The Senate is moving forward with an aid and sanctions bill for Ukraine. Most Republicans are up in arms about it.

Republicans are lining up to oppose an emerging Senate bill that would fund the new Ukrainian government—and punish Russia for its invasion and occupation of Crimea. The partisan fight could mean weeks of delays before any American help reaches the new government in Kiev.

Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will mark up legislation to give aid to Ukraine and sanction Russia. The Daily Beast has obtained a copy of the bill, which was crafted primarily by committee heads Robert Menendez and Bob Corker.

The bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to support reform of the International Monetary Fund—and offsets some of those funds taking money away from U.S. military accounts. Because of that, all committee Republicans, except for Corker and perhaps John McCain, are expected to vote against the bill. The fractured support will prevent the bill from being considered by the full Senate this week, delaying floor action until after the coming two week Congressional recess.

“This legislation is supposed to be about assisting Ukraine and punishing Russia. Instead, it gives Putin something he wants.”

Senate aides said that Republicans are objecting to the bill’s language that would pay for IMF reform measures, especially because the bill would take about half of the money, just under $150 million, from accounts to buy Army and Air Force aircraft and missiles.

Corker told The Daily Beast in an interview Wednesday that the money, known in Congressional parlance as “payfors” because they “pay for” new spending, would not adversely impact the military.

“They are payfors that are unexpended funds on contracts, procurement... It’s money that’s left over from last year’s appropriations bill, it should be okay,” Corker told The Daily Beast.

But some Senate aides said that the Department of Defense has made clear to Senate offices that they object to the payfors and that they have already taken the targeted money out of their budgets to meet the spending caps required under Congressionally mandated sequestration limits.

“DOD confirmed this morning that this money has already been reprogrammed and is not available for anything,” one senior GOP Senate aide said. “The optics here are that you are cutting DOD money to go to an international organization, which is an anathema to Republicans. McCain and Corker are pushing this to seize a crisis and help the administration and by doing so are turning this in to a partisan issue.”

The bill also would secure loan guarantees for the Ukrainian government; provide Kiev with $50 million in funding for civil society programs; authorize $100 million in funding for enhanced security cooperation with America’s Eastern European allies; and order visa bans and asset freezes for any officials involved in the Russian invasion or occupation in Crimea.

At today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, GOP senators will try to strip the Ukraine bill of the IMF funding, including the payfors. But that effort will likely fail due to opposition by all committee Democrats and Corker. The committee will then likely approve the bill largely along party lines.

Committee member Marco Rubio said in a Wednesday statement that the IMF funding was harming the bill and that he would oppose the legislation if it included the IMF provisions, which he sees as “Russia[n]-backed.”

“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,” Rubio said in a statement.

Corker said that the IMF money must be in the package. He also said that the Senate should act quickly to show its support for the Ukrainian government in its time of crisis.

“We’re all looking to the IMF to be that organization that really moves Ukraine along and I just don’t know how we cannot honor the commitments to the IMF that we have,” he said. “I don’t want to wait three weeks [to pass a bill], I don’t want to send that message, I want to move on this right away.”

House leadership has come out publicly against including the IMF spending in the Ukraine bill. The House has already passed a Ukraine aid bill without IMF money and without the sanctions. The Senate could pass that measure before leaving town Thursday evening, but that would make passing a more comprehensive bill in the senate much more difficult, said SFRC member Ben Cardin.

“You then lose sanctions and IMF reform, which would not be good,” Cardin told The Daily Beast. “I don’t like the payfors but the reality is that we have to have payfors to get the type of support we need to pass the legislation… The package we put together is one that makes sense.”

Cardin predicted the bill would pass comfortably in the Senate if and when it reaches the Senate floor.

Aides said that Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe was opposed to the Ukraine bill in its current form, in part because of the money being taken out of Army and Air Force accounts. But SASC member Lindsey Graham said he supported the legislation as it is and would fight to keep the IMF reform provisions in the bill, even though he was not thrilled about taking the money away from the military.

“As Americans, we can’t take all tools off the table. The IMF is a good organization and it gives us good leverage to shape the world without using military force all the time,” he said. “We would be short sighted not to embrace this reform.”

The delay in passing the bill is not a huge problem, according to Graham, but if the discrepancy over the funding ultimately can’t be resolved, the IMF reform section could be stripped from the bill.

“If you can let the Ukrainian people know that help is on the way, it doesn’t matter if the bill is voted on two or three weeks from now,” he said. “But if I had to pick something or nothing, I would say take it out.”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was questioned about the IMF reform funding at a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Budget Committee.  He admitted that the IMF can proceed with a $15 billion overall aid package for Ukraine without Congress but argued for the funding nonetheless.

“What’s very much is the case is that our voice in the IMF is affected by whether or not we approve quota reform and our ability to drive that package in the direction we want it to go is diminished if we don’t act on it,” he said.

The Ukraine bill being unveiled Wednesday does not include language that had been circulating which would have gone after an administration plan to have the IRS crack down on non-profit organizations that fund political campaigns. That idea had been floated as a way to bring Republicans into support of the bill, but was opposed by Democrats.

 “It’s a horrible idea because American is flooded with dark and anonymous money that is polluting our elections and the IRS does need to clean up the mess that they’ve left over many years of non-enforcement,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told The Daily Beast. “And the idea that we want to support democracy in Ukraine by preventing the IRS from cleaning up abuses of democracy that they’ve allowed to take place at home, the irony is telling.”