The House and Senate Thursday overwhelmingly passed legislation endorsing President Obama's plan to provide $1 billion in aid to Ukraine and to sanction Russia for invading the country, moving a step closer to clearing the measure for the president's desk.
Each chamber passed slightly different measures, which they plan to reconcile as early as today. But Democrats this week agreed to speed passage by dropping a provision to ratify International Monetary Fund reforms.
lawmakers in both chambers said it was important to quickly pass the aid and sanctions package to send a message to Ukraine as well as Russia, which has taken over Crimea and is now threatening the rest of Ukraine.
“It supports Ukraine and it pushes back on Russia,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs panel, said. “It shows support for our allies in the region. It’s a first step, and more could come.”
The Senate package includes $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, which lawmakers believe will help loosen Russian President Vladimir Putin's economic grip on the nation.
In addition to the loan package, the measure would authorize $100 million for “enhanced security cooperation” for Ukraine and neighboring countries in Central and Eastern Europe, aid for recovering assets stolen by the Putin-backed, ousted government, and an additional $50 million to help Ukraine re-establish a legitimate and functioning government.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been highly critical of Obama’s handling of the crisis, warned that the United States must quickly send a strong signal to Putin to deter him from pushing his troops beyond Crimea.
“I am not predicting World War III but I am predicting Vladimir Putin will go as far as he thinks he can in order to realize his ambition, which is to restore the Russian empire. This legislation before us will indicate the first steps we are taking in response.”
House GOP leaders have suggested they can quickly work out the minor differences between the two bills.
As the Senate voted unanimously to pass its Ukraine package, the House passed theirs by a 399-19 margin.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the two chambers were undergoing talks that suggested a fast resolution.
The House and Senate bills include language authorizing Obama to impose additional sanctions on Russian officials.
The House bill also includes money for Voice of America in order to combat an onslaught of Russian propaganda in Ukraine.
In the meantime, House Republican leaders suggested there could be more legislation to punish Russia.
“The House will continue to pursue legislation that implements significant damage to the Russian economy and future attempts to occupy free and sovereign Eastern European nations,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said.