Following its latest one-week break, and in advance of April’s two-week Spring break, members of Congress will actually be on Capitol Hill this week with some important legislation on the to-do list. Near the top: a bill providing economic aid to Ukraine.
The Senate will vote, probably this evening, on an aid package that includes changes to the International Monetary Fund to expand loans to developing countries, including Ukraine. Republicans have balked the IMF overhaul, but the legislation may pass the chamber anyway.
As is often the case, the real trouble is in the Republican-led House.
If the Senate, controlled by Democrats, approves the aid legislation, it will go back to the Republican-led House. Republican leaders there have said they would be willing to support the legislation with the I.M.F. language if the administration agreed to delay Internal Revenue Service regulations that would restrict the activities of tax-exempt political organizations.Members of both parties have criticized that proposal, arguing that Republican leaders are holding urgent aid to Ukraine hostage on behalf of conservative donors like David and Charles Koch.
What do IRS limits on tax-exempt political organizations have to do with Ukraine? Nothing, but House Republicans have an instinct – taking hostages is easier than traditional governing – that they just can’t seem to shake.
It offers quite a contrast when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. The Obama administration sees the aid package as an important diplomatic tool during a tense crisis. Indeed, the aid package is necessary, the White House argues, to help curry favor with Ukraine and strengthen Ukrainian officials sympathetic to the West.
House Republicans, meanwhile, see an opportunity, effectively asking Democrats, “What’s it worth to you?”
The surprise isn’t that GOP lawmakers are once again eyeing extortion politics, but rather, that their demand is unrelated to “Obamacare.”
Policymakers can, of course, have a spirited debate over proposed IRS regulations that target non-profit groups that get involved in campaigns without disclosing their donors.
But the notion that this debate, and possible legislative remedies to stop the IRS, need to be tied to a debate over Ukrainian aid is a reminder about the seriousness with which some congressional Republicans take foreign-policy crises.
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