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Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are agreeing on something these days, that Congress needs to approve an aid package quickly for the fledgling and nearly broke government now ruling Ukraine. But it's been harder than expected for the House and Senate to agree on what should or should not be in that aid package. The biggest sticking point: a change in the rules at the International Monetary Fund that the Obama administration considers critical for rescuing Ukraine.
Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: For the Obama administration, the $1 billion in loan guarantees the House approved last week for Ukraine is simply not enough. Appearing before a House panel yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said stabilizing Ukraine financially requires ratification of a set of reforms for the International Monetary Fund that have languished over the past four years due to Congressional inaction.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: It's only through the IMF, a reformed IMF, that Ukraine is going to receive the additional help it needs in order to stand on its own two feet.
WELNA: Kerry's plea was, in fact, heeded by his former colleagues in the Senate. New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, Kerry's successor as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, unveiled a bipartisan aid package for Ukraine that included loan guarantees, sanctions against those violating human rights in Ukraine or undermining its stability, and then one last provision.
SENATOR BOB MENENDEZ: It provides needed reforms to the United States' participation in the International Monetary Fund, which would allow the United States to leverage significant support from the IMF for Ukraine today, and for similar unforeseen crises in the future.
WELNA: Ranking Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee declared while he strongly supported including the IMF reforms in the aid package...
SENATOR BOB CORKER: This is going to be a little bit more difficult on our side of the aisle. I'll put it that way.
WELNA: Indeed, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul questioned whether it made sense to lend any money to Ukraine.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: I would ask for a show of hands of those would personally buy Ukrainian debt.
PAUL: Ukrainian debt is rated triple C-, not one person in this room would buy it. There's no expectation they can pay it back.
WELNA: Paul said because Ukraine owes Russia so much money, any loan to Ukraine would just end up in Russia's coffers. But Arizona's John McCain, a fellow Republican, wasn't buying it.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: This whole situation in Ukraine is extremely fragile, and I would think the worst thing that we could do right now is say that we aren't going to assist you.
WELNA: In the end, only three Republicans on the panel opposed the aid package, which is now headed for a vote by the full Senate. But even if it wins quick approval there, it would still have to be reconciled with the House-passed Ukraine aid package, which does not include the IMF reforms. House Speaker John Boehner yesterday showed no inclination of going along with the Senate's version.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: This IMF money isn't necessary for dealing with this Ukraine crisis that we see today.
WELNA: Other House Republicans made it clear they had little use for the IMF anytime. Ted Yoho is a freshman from Florida, who's on the Foreign Affairs Committee. The IMF, he says, does not figure in the U.S. Constitution.
REPRESENTATIVE TED YOHO: Where does it say that we should have an International Monetary Fund that we should supply and support?
WELNA: So you would actually prefer that there not be U.S. participation in the IMF?
YOHO: When we're $17.4 trillion in debt and I've got people in my district that can't get health care or they can't send their kids to school, I think we need to look at that real carefully.
WELNA: Other House Republicans say the IMF reforms would diminish the clout of the United States by giving more of a voice to emerging nations, including Russia. But the refusal by Congress to ratify changes at the IMF has already reduced Washington's standing there, according IMF expert Scott Morris. He's a former Treasury Department official who's now at the Center for Global Development. He says House Republicans may, in fact, be strengthening Russia's hand at the IMF by refusing to approve reforms there.
SCOTT MORRIS: It's kind of a strange reaction to concerns about declining U.S. influence, is that you basically seek to hammer the nail in the coffin.
WELNA: Some House Republicans think a deal still is possible to get a Ukraine aid package soon. North Carolina's Patrick McHenry says if an unrelated provision sought by Republicans were added that blocks the IRS from cracking down on political non-profits, it just might pass the House.
REPRESENTATIVE PATRICK MCHENRY: Congress has done dumber and sillier things.
WELNA: But with Congress set to leave for a weeklong break, there's little chance of a Ukraine aid package emerging anytime soon. Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, was at the Capitol last night meeting with congressional leaders, just days before Crimea is to vote on seceding from Ukraine to join Russia. With nothing concrete agreed upon yet about helping a struggling nation, a promised photo op of Yatseniuk with Speaker Boehner ended up getting canceled. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.