Ukraine loan package, Russian sanctions clear key Senate hurdle
WASHINGTON -- Legislation to approve $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and impose sanctions against Russia cleared a key Senate hurdle Monday, but Congress remained locked in a partisan fight over the details of the package.
By a vote of 78-17, the measure advanced after overcoming the threat of a GOP filibuster and objections from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other tea party-aligned conservatives.
But the Senate package still faces opposition in the House, where Republicans -- with backing from key Democrats -- are crafting their own version.
The full Senate is expected to pass its bill later in the week.
Lawmakers, who returned Monday from a weeklong recess, have been struggling to set aside partisan squabbles to show a unified front following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
Both Republicans and Democrats largely agree with President Obama’s broad goals of providing Ukraine up to $1 billion in loan guarantees and penalizing the Russians through sanctions on individuals close to Putin. A stand-alone loan package has already been approved by the House.
Key to the objections from Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and others is a provision in the Senate version sought by the White House to expand the loan-making authority of the International Monetary Fund. Critics say the extra loans are unnecessary, and the conservative group Heritage Action urged a no vote.
The IMF approved the changes several years ago as part of a plan to bolster participation in the fund from countries with emerging economies. Ukraine’s ability to borrow from the fund would almost double to $14.5 billion, officials said. The U.S. is the last IMF member country to approve the changes, and White House officials said Monday that the additional loan authority would be key to Kiev’s ability to stabilize its economy.
Other Republicans have said they do not necessarily oppose the IMF changes, but want something in return for approving an administration priority.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has suggested the White House should delay forthcoming Internal Revenue Service regulations on nonprofit groups, a swap that has led Democrats to accuse Republicans of holding up Ukraine aid to protect the billionaire Koch brothers and others aligned with the groups.
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