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US Congress to Act Soon on Ukraine Aid, Russian Sanctions

FILE - Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
FILE - Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
Michael Bowman
Prospects are improving for U.S. congressional approval of an aid package for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, as House and Senate lawmakers resolve differences between the chambers. A bill could be ready for President Barack Obama's signature by week's end.

Capitol Hill is rife with bipartisan desire to respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and congressional action has never been in serious doubt.

"The world is watching," said Democrat Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "And the world’s superpower cannot be seen as incapable of rising to Russia’s challenge."

But the exact formulation of a bill to assist Ukraine and punish Russia hit a partisan snag earlier this week.

Some Republicans objected to a provision in a bill before the Democratic-led Senate that would have shifted U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund so as to facilitate IMF loans to Ukraine and other nations in times of duress. Democrats and the Obama administration defended the measure as beneficial to Ukraine and the global financial system. Skeptical Republicans said it would impose costs on U.S. taxpayers.

While Senate debate dragged on, leaders in the Republican-led House of Representatives signaled the provision would not pass their chamber. Late Tuesday, Senate Democrats conceded defeat and dropped the IMF measure.   

“You are going to get your way today," Menendez told his Republican colleagues. "And I would hope that the rest of this package - which provides a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, that provides sanctions against the Russian regime and others who corrupted the previous Ukrainian government and who have violated its territorial integrity - all other elements of this legislation should have universal support."

Republicans who objected to the IMF provision applauded the move. Final Senate passage is expected early Thursday. On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner promised swift action.

“We are in conversations with the Senate in terms of how we clear through this. Our goal is to work together and get this bill done as quickly as possible," he said.

Boehner said he wants Congress to give Obama tools that “put him in as strong a position as possible” to deal with the crisis in Ukraine.

Whether the House simply votes on the Senate bill or passes its own version that would have to go back to the Senate remains to be seen. Both chambers must pass identical versions for a bill to become law.

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