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U.S. lawmakers say to vote on Ukraine aid package soon

Source: Reuters - Wed, 5 Mar 2014 23:18 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By David Lawder and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, March 5 (Reuters) - In a rare show of support for President Barack Obama, Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Wednesday they would work with the White House to address the crisis in Ukraine and vote on legislation offering financial aid soon.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the Republican-led House will consider a $1 billion loan guarantee package for Ukraine and look at measures to "put significant pressure on Russia to stop the flagrant aggression to its neighbor in Ukraine."

"The world community should stand united against this invasion, America should be leading and we'll vote soon on legislation to aid the Ukrainian people," Cantor told reporters.

House Speaker John Boehner also said that the House will work in a bipartisan way with Obama, a Democrat.

A bill to assist Ukraine, backed by both Republicans and Democrats, is also making its way through the U.S. Senate.

That legislation could be introduced as soon as this week, with a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as early as March 11, said an aide to Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee.

Senators have been discussing ways to aid Ukraine's new government and isolate Russia. Among other things, the Senate legislation would also authorize funds to provide at least $1 billion in loan guarantees to support Ukraine's economy.

But the Republican leadership also had some harsh criticism of Obama's foreign policy.

"With regard to Ukraine, the steps that have not been taken over the last three or four years, (by Obama) frankly, allowed Putin to believe that he could do what he's doing without any reaction from us. But given where we are, we're here, in a bipartisan way, trying to work with the president, to strengthen his hand," Boehner said.

He said this includes the loan guarantee bill as well as consideration of a "toolbox" of sanctions authority that is similar to those used against Iran in recent years to persuade it to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

Boehner also criticized Obama for failing to approve liquefied natural gas exports, which could help lessen the dependence of European allies on Russian gas.

But since 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy has approved six proposals to export liquid natural gas, most recently on Feb. 11. Supporters of U.S. energy exports have pounced on the crisis in Ukraine to pressure the Obama approval to speed approvals of LNG.

Cantor said it was important that the costs of the Ukraine loan guarantee be offset with other savings, but the House will proceed to a vote on the measure without a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office to move it quickly.

Any dispute in Congress over how to pay for the measure could slow its progress. (Editing by Eric Beech and G Crosse)

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