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POLITICS: PennAve

Eric Cantor dismisses Senate Ukraine package, calls for vote on House version

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Senate,Russia,PennAve,Eric Cantor,Foreign Policy,Ukraine,IMF

A Senate panel Thursday approved a package of loan guarantees for embattled Ukraine, but the measure could ultimately stall over a provision included to reform the International Monetary Fund.

Congress will adjourn for a week-long recess Friday before addressing the legislation, which includes language that would increase the IMF voting power of less-developed countries, including Russia, whose voting share would be boosted by 8 percent under the reform.

Many House Republicans oppose including the IMF reforms in the Ukraine aid package, diminishing the Senate bill's prospects in the GOP-led House as well.

The House last week passed a loan guarantee package for Ukraine that excluded the IMF language. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told the Washington Examiner Wednesday that he wants the Senate to vote on the House bill.

“The House has already passed a bill,” Cantor said. “They should take up that bill and we’ll deal with any other kind of issue as they come. Right now, it’s important for us to send a signal to Ukraine.”

Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 in favor of the package, which provides Ukraine with $1 billion in loan guarantees. The measure authorizes another $100 million for “enhanced security cooperation” for Ukraine and neighboring countries in Central and Eastern Europe and it green-lights $50 million to help Ukraine re-establish a legitimate and functioning government.

The country is facing a threat to its independence from Moscow, which on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin last week seized the Crimea region with the intent to annex it via a March 16 referendum.

“Ukraine is confronting a menacing threat challenging its very existence and in their hour of need, we firmly stand with the Ukrainian people to choose their own destiny without Russian interference,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said. “President Putin has miscalculated by playing a game of Russian roulette with the international community, but we refuse to blink, and will never accept this violation of international law.”

The legislation includes the authority for the president to issue sanctions against the Russians and Ukrainians responsible for the country’s corruption and violence, but it does not mandate that President Obama issue sanctions.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the panel's sole libertarian-leaning member, was among three Republicans to vote against committee passage.

He introduced amendments to the bill that would have eliminated the loan guarantee and would have struck approval of the IMF reforms. Paul pointed out that Ukraine owes Russia up to $30 billion.

“Primarily the question is, when you loan money to Ukraine, are you sending a signal to punish Russia, or sending a gift to pay off Russian creditors?”

The committee struck down an amendment by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., that would have expedited the permitting process to allow the United States to begin exporting liquified natural gas to Ukraine. Allowing the United States to export natural gas to Ukraine, Barrasso said, would help alleviate Kiev's dependency on Russia for energy.

But Democrats protested, saying it would raise the price of natural gas in the U.S. Menendez ruled that the amendment was not in order and needed review from other committees.

The House intends to take up legislation mirroring Barrasso’s proposal in about two weeks.

The Senate panel also struck down an amendment by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to strip out the IMF reform measure. Johnson said it would make it harder to pass the bill out of Congress because many Republicans oppose it.

But proponents of the reform said the changes would give the IMF more power to step in and help put Ukraine on a path to economic recovery and stability.

“Ukraine is a poster child for why we need the IMF to do the things it is doing,” Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, the panel's top Republican, said.

In addition to Paul, Barrasso and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, voted against the measure. Risch cited his opposition to the IMF provision.

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