As soon as tomorrow, the Republican-led House could move forward with a bill that would authorize a loan guarantee to Ukraine. House leaders are also working on a possible bill to issue sanctions against Russia in response to its intervention in Ukraine.
"We are here in a bipartisan way trying to work with the president to strengthen his hand," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday, even as he pressed President Obama to change the dynamics of his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"The steps that have not been taken over the last three or four years, frankly, allowed Putin to believe that he could do what he is doing without any reaction from us," Boehner said.
Still, the legislation in the works is in step with the administration's aims. The loan guarantee legislation would authorize $1 billion in existing funds to help Ukraine as it attempts to stabilize its economy amid political upheaval. If the administration needs more, it can request an appropriations transfer, a House leadership aide told CBS News.
"Our ultimate goal is to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday. "As the Ukrainian government prepares for elections in May, it's critical that the international community support their efforts to restore economic stability."
The $1 billion loan guarantee, Lew said, is part of a package of bilateral assistance to meet Ukraine's most pressing needs. Lew also said Congress should pass legislation that would follow through on a 2010 international agreement to increase the United States' share (or quota) of support to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Doing so would increase the IMF's capacity to lend resources to Ukraine, Lew said. "While the United States will not increase our total financial commitment to the IMF by approving the 2010 reforms, it's important to note that for every dollar the U.S. contributes to the IMF other countries provide $4 dollars more," he said. "At a time when the U.S. is at the forefront of international calls in urging the fund to play a central and active first responder roll in Ukraine, it's imperative that we secure passage of IMF legislation now so we can show support for the IMF in this critical moment and preserve our leading influential voice in this institution."
Lew also said the administration is "looking into a wide range of options" to respond to Russia's intervention in Ukraine, including sanctions and ways to increase Russia's political and economic isolation. Specifically, the U.S. won't participate in an upcoming G8 summit in Russia this June unless Moscow reverses course.
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"I think it's clear that Russia cannot sit at a G8 meeting while it's pursuing the policies it's pursuing," Lew said. He also noted the U.S. has withdrawn a trade mission that was supposed to be working with Russia and has withdrawn a presidential delegation that was supposed to be attending the Para-Olympics.
"The president's made clear that he has asked for us to develop further options," Lew said. "We will continue to develop those options. And I'm going to reserve for the president to address future steps that he might take, but we're clear there needs to be steps that hold Russia accountable for actions taken to date."
Boehner on Wednesday reiterated his position that Mr. Obama could gain more leverage over Moscow by expanding exports in natural gas.
"What gives [Putin] leverage over Eastern Europe and Europe is the fact that they export a lot of their oil and gas to those countries who are dependent on them," Boehner said. "And over the last three years we've permitted six -- just six -- liquefied natural gas facilities around the country. There are 24 applications just sitting down at the Department of Energy. If the president wanted to strengthen his hand and protect our allies in the region he would pick up his phone and use his pen and have the Energy Department approve these applications."
Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday will vote on a bipartisan, non-binding resolution expressing support for sanctions against Russia.