Despite dozens of statements issued by American politicians expressing “grave concern” about the Ukrainian crisis, Congress has become mired in the all-too-familiar partisan gridlock with a spat threatening to delay any American aid to the country for weeks. The fight finally came to a head on the Senate floor Thursday, when Republican Sen. John McCain lashed out at fellow members of his party for holding up passage of the Ukrainian aid bill.
At issue is the Senate version of the bill, which imposes strict sanctions on Russians directly involved in the crisis and offers monetary aid to the new Ukrainian government. It passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 14-3 vote Wednesday.
But there’s one provision in the Senate version of the bill that differs from the version that passed the House. It contains reforms to the International Monetary Fund, which are supported by President Barack Obama and Democrats but opposed by some Republicans. The House did not include those reforms in its version of the bill.
Disputes over the IMF provision ensure the bill will not be taken up until the Senate returns from recess on March 24. The Senate bill was not taken up for a full floor vote before the chamber recessed on Thursday after Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso objected to its consideration.
His objection prompted a tongue-lashing from fellow Republican Sen. John McCain, who blasted his party in a dramatic speech on the Senate floor and said they were on a “fool’s errand” comparable to last year’s federal government shutdown.
“I’ve been embarrassed before on the floor of the Senate, I will tell the president. But I haven’t been embarrassed this way about members of my own party,” McCain said.
“Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” he added. “Reagan would never tolerate this.”
According to Senate aides, Republicans object to the IMF reforms because they are partly paid for by taking money from accounts used to buy Army and Air Force aircraft and missiles. Republicans also argue the reforms would diminish U.S. influence, since they would let the U.S. shift billions from crisis IMF accounts to its general lending fund. For these reasons, many Republicans have come out in vehement opposition of the provision, arguing it could even empower Russia.
“Unfortunately, the White House is taking advantage of this crisis by pushing for the Ukraine bill to include a controversial measure on International Monetary Fund reforms negotiated by the administration in 2010 that are wholly unrelated to the current crisis in Ukraine,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “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.”
The consensus among both House and Senate Republicans is that the final bill reaching Obama’s desk will not contain the reforms. A Senate Democratic leadership aide said they expected the bill will pass when the Senate returns later this month, “so we’ll just have to see how it plays” with the House.
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