Ukraine financial aid package stalled in Congress
(CNN) — A Ukraine financial aid package stalled in Congress on Thursday, caught up in a fight over IMF funding and an unrelated dispute over rules aimed at curbing political activities by nonprofit groups.
Senate Democrats rejected a proposal floated by Republicans to add language to the Ukraine measure that would delay new IRS regulations for how the agency oversees some tax-exempt organizations.
Republicans had privately suggested delaying the regulations, which are not final, might be a tradeoff to help speed passage of the Ukraine bill that includes a White House-backed plan to reform the International Monetary Fund, which is opposed by House Republicans.
Conservatives — and some liberals — vehemently oppose the new rules that came out of the IRS scandal last year when the agency was shown to have improperly targeted a number of nonprofit groups, particularly tea party and other Republican-leaning organizations.
House Speaker John Boehner said Senate Democrats should take up a House-passed Ukraine aid bill and not deal with the controversial IMF reforms at this time because it could delay passage of loans needed by Ukraine.
“The IMF money has nothing to do with Ukraine,” Boehner said. “I understand the administration wants the IMF money, but it has nothing at all to do with Ukraine.”
The Senate package includes $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees as well as $50 million to boost democracy building in Ukraine and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation for Ukraine and some of its neighbors.
It also includes proposed sanctions against individual Ukrainians and Russians responsible for the violence against anti-government protestors in Ukraine and those who have undermined the stability and sovereignty of Ukraine.
The White House is advancing loan guarantees and President Barack Obama has set the groundwork for sanctions but is currently pursing a diplomatic strategy to resolve the crisis over Russia’s intervention in Crimea.
The aid issue came to a head in the Senate on Thursday when Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to get approval from all members to pass the measure but Republicans objected.
Sen. John McCain, who supports the Senate bill, said he was “embarrassed” that fellow Republicans were putting disputes over the IMF and campaign finance reform ahead of the Ukrainians.
New rules stemming from the IRS scandal would clearly define how much of their budgets tax-free groups known as 501 (c) (4)s could spend on political advocacy.
Opponents fear the rules would curb the free speech rights of the groups and inhibit their ability to influence political campaigns.
Reid is leading a campaign against one of these groups, Americans for Prosperity, which is run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch who have targeted vulnerable Senate Democrats this election year.
“This is hard for me to comprehend. How with a clear conscience they could say, ‘Ukrainian’s, we probably can’t help you because we’re trying to protect the Koch brothers,” Reid said about the Republican proposal.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, agreed the Senate should take up the House-passed bill and said lawmakers could come back later to deal with IMF issue and the new IRS regulations.
“We understand how badly they want to block political speech by people who disagree with them,” Cornyn said pointedly about the Democrats.