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US Congressional Action on Ukraine Aid Delayed by IMF Disputes

  • Cindy Saine

A dispute over International Monetary Fund borrowing quotas is delaying efforts by the U.S. Congress to pass an emergency aid package for the interim Ukrainian government, which is facing a potential default and Russian military intervention in the Crimean peninsula. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on lawmakers to include IMF reform as a critical part of a loan package to Ukraine, but some House Republicans are skeptical.

U.S. President Barack Obama is urging Congress to take quick action to get American assistance to the beleaguered interim government of Ukraine. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a $1-billion aid package, with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats. The bill did not include a request by the president, though, to approve reforms to the International Monetary Fund that would give developing countries a bigger say at the international lender.

Now, a bill is heading to the Senate floor that would increase the package to $1.6 billion by expanding loan limits for countries like Ukraine. The Senate and House versions of the bill have to match before they can go to the president for his signature.

House Republicans say IMF reforms are a separate issue. Republican House Speaker John Boehner called on the Senate to pass the House version before an upcoming one-week congressional recess. “The House has acted on a loan-guarantee package with strong bipartisan support. The Senate should pass the bill before the District work period," he said.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows said he wants to get aid to Ukraine as soon as possible, but he explained that some lawmakers are concerned about risks to American taxpayers if IMF loan limits increase.

“You know we want to make sure that those, one are put to best use. The other is that there is a real plan, that it is not just writing a check for $15 billion or $20 billion, whatever the case may be. So, I think working through that, I do believe it will get worked out,” said Meadows.

Speaking to a Senate subcommittee Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry made a strong appeal for Congress to include IMF reforms in a Ukraine loan package. “Our leadership on this is now in doubt. When people say the United States is retreating, we are inadvertently hurting ourselves by sending a message that we are not prepared to lead and step up and complete the task. We are the only country that has not ratified this,” said Kerry.

Other countries have ratified the proposed changes to the IMF, which President Barack Obama helped to negotiate in 2010.

The ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, said Congress needs to act fast.

"So it’s a little bit of a standoff and I’m hoping it will resolve itself quickly because we really cannot afford to have the aid just sit," said Engel. "Ukraine needs it forthwith, immediately, yesterday, and I’m hoping that the White House and the leadership in the House can work through the differences on Ukraine, have a meeting of minds and get the aid to Ukraine as quickly as possible.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are voicing optimism that an agreement will be reached, because there is overwhelming unity that the United States should show strong support for the people of Ukraine.