The top Senate Republican accused his Democratic counterpart of needlessly injecting partisanship into congressional debate over U.S. aid to Ukraine as the House and Senate continued debating competing bills Tuesday with no signs of resolution.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded Tuesday morning to comments made Monday night by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). The Senate leader had suggested that Republicans may have helped Russia annex Crimea by delaying procedural votes on a Senate bill that would provide more than $1 billion in aid to the new Ukrainian government.
"I mean, who writes this stuff?" McConnell said Tuesday morning in response. "It's not just completely unhelpful. It also injects hyper-partisanship into the process when we should all actually be working together."
McConnell credited senators for developing "a decent amount of common ground" on providing assistance to Ukraine, but said that the current Senate bill "cannot pass the House or become law in its current form" if it continues to include changes to how the U.S. provides money for the International Monetary Fund.
"The controversial IMF provision must be removed. This simply cannot be a take it or leave it situation. That's just nonsensical," McConnell said.
Several Republican senators are opposed to including in the aid package changes sought by the White House that would shift about $63 billion in IMF money from a crisis fund to a general account. Doing so would make good on a 2010 pledge by the Obama administration and ensure greater U.S. influence over the world body.
Other Republicans would like to amend the aid package to include language that would eventually lead to the export of U.S. natural gas to Eastern Europe in order to help decrease the continent's reliance on energy sources from Russia. But Reid so far has not indicated whether he will allow votes on such proposals.
Over in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday accused Senate Democrats of bringing "unrelated items into this debate. They're -- all it's going to do is slow the whole process down."
The House passed an aid package two weeks ago that includes $1 billion in loan guarantees. Senators have amended that bill to include additional sanctions and the IMF language.
But Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that his panel will approve a new, separate round of sanctions and penalties against senior Russian and Ukrainian officials and that the new bill will say nothing about the IMF.
"There isn't support in my committee on either side of the aisle for including this. We feel it should be handled separately," he told reporters.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign affairs committee, agreed with Royce, telling Foreign Policy Magazine in an interview that ongoing debate over IMF reform "makes us look silly and weak. If there's one thing Ukraine needs, it's aid, it's help ... I'm for these reforms happening, but I'm even more for immediate loan guarantees and aid to Ukraine."
In addition to the new sanctions bill, Royce said the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to move a separate measure that would eventually authorize exporting American liquid natural gas to Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin "has got Ukraine by the throat in terms of the monopoly pricing of gas," Royce said. "He can turn the valve off anytime. And we need the ability to ship gas into that market at any time."