A fascinating debate over aid to Ukraine erupted on the Senate floor tonight. It featured Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez, John McCain, and Bob Corker on one side and Jeff Sessions, John Barrasso, and Ted Cruz on the other.
The debate concerned two bills — a House bill that would provide a billion dollar loan package to Ukraine and a Senate bill that would provide loans and also impose sanctions.
Reid, Durbin, and company were pushing for unanimous consent for passage of the Senate bill (with the Senate about to go on break, there weren’t enough Senators around to obtain cloture, though the votes apparently exist). Sessions, Barrasso, and Cruz were urging passage of the House bill. Barrasso blocked the Senate bill through an objection; Reid did the same with the House bill.
The Senate bill is clearly the tougher of the two. Why, then, did Barrasso object?
The problem is that Senate doesn’t stop with aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia. The Democrats added controversial provisions related to the International Monetary Fund — measures they have unsuccessfully sought to enact for some time.
Sessions, Barrasso, and Cruz objected to the IMF provisions mainly for two reasons. First, they argued that the IMF reform would significantly increase the amount the U.S. spends on the IMF and thereby violate the budget deal. Second, they argued that it would reduce the power of the U.S. within the IMF and increase Russian influence. It seems odd, indeed, to respond to Putin’s aggression by giving Russia an improved position in the IMF.
There is also the question of whether IMF reform has anything to do with Ukraine. It does in a sense, I think, because the IMF will be involved in efforts to provide economic assistance to Ukraine. But Cruz argued that the House aid package could be implemented without IMF reform, and no one on the other side of the debate contradicted him. And America can sanction Russia without reforming the IMF.
Accordingly, there was no good reason not to pass the House bill, which wouldn’t have precluded passing sanctions or considering IMF reform when Congress reconvenes. On the other hand, there was good reason not to pass the Senate bill, assuming one agrees that the IMF reform package appended to it is problematic.
In essence, then, Harry Reid and company held aid to Ukraine hostage to their efforts to impose IMF reform measures they have been unable to pass on their merit. It was another example of the sheer cynicism and manipulation that characterize Reid’s reign. Let’s hope the end of that reign is near.
Reid’s cynicism was compounded by his speech on the Senate floor, an emotional presentation that invoked the memory of his late father-in-law, a Jew who was born in what is now Ukraine (Reid reportedly once punched the guy in the face). Reid also attacked the Koch Brothers again.
Whether Reid’s father-in-law (who probably left Ukraine under some duress) shared Reid’s alleged affection for Ukrainians, I don’t know. But if Reid really wanted to help them, he would have made sure the Senate passed “clean” Ukraine legislation, i.e., legislation without the controversial IMF reform provisions.
To be fair, Republicans talked about tying Ukraine aid to the holding up of proposed IRS regulations to curb 501(c)(4)s, perhaps as a way of winning over conservative members who are reluctant to support Ukraine financially.
But the Republicans backed off and, as Cruz reminded Reid, presented the Senate with “clean” legislation to help Ukraine. The Senate should have passed it today.