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Sunday, December 4, 2016

By William Douglas and Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Russia’s annexation of Crimea has produced yet another perfect storm in Washington: a fast-moving international crisis and a slow-moving U.S. Congress.

The Senate next week will try once again to take up a $1 billion aid and sanctions bill to help struggling Ukraine after attempts to bring up the measure eroded into a barrage of ill will and finger-pointing on the chamber floor just before Congress adjourned for a one-week recess.

Before the adjournment, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops were working to secure Crimea. When the Senate holds a procedural vote Monday on Ukraine, lawmakers will be dealing with a Crimea that Putin has firmly declared is now part of Russia.

“The more dilly-dallying here, the more difficult we make the problem for the Ukraine and ourselves,” said former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), head of Indiana University’s Center on Congress and a former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. “For the Congress to take a break at a time you have an international crisis doesn’t help. Time is of the essence.”

President Barack Obama concurred, urging Congress to swiftly pass a Ukraine aid package.

“Expressions of support are not enough,” he said Thursday on the White House South Lawn. “We need action.”

But Russia’s hold on Crimea might not be enough to persuade senators to pick up their pace, as there’s sharp disagreement among Republicans over a provision in the bill that revamps the International Monetary Fund.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s confident there’s enough Republican support to prevent the bill from being bottled up. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that the administration believes the Ukraine aid bill “can and should move forward quickly through Congress as soon as Congress is back.”

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) says he’s not sure.

The provision would allow the IMF to move $63 billion from its crisis fund to its general accounts. The move, which increase the IMF’s quota — or equity capital — would make good on a 2010 international agreement that also would re-balance the fund’s board of directors to give economically emerging nations like China, India and Brazil a greater voice.

Conservative Republicans say the change is unnecessary and would diminish U.S. clout over the fund. Some Republicans also believe that the IMF has served as an enabler, bailing out countries that have suffered economic hard times because of poor financial decisions made by their governments.

The House of Representatives passed a Ukraine aid bill on March 6 that contains $1 billion in loan guarantees but excludes IMF restructuring. Several conservative senators blocked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) from moving quickly on the legislation. They voiced opposition to the Senate bill and support for the House measure.

“I would suggest that the so-called IMF reforms are misguided policy,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said before the break during a sometimes heated exchange on the Senate floor. “There is no need whatsoever for these reforms. I agree with Speaker of the House John Boehner, who says these so-called IMF reforms are unnecessary.”