House Leaders snuck Russian sanctions through Congress while most Members flew home for the weekend

Russian Sanctions

One of the great debates that will likely play some role in the coming Presidential election is the relationship between Congress and the White House, especially in matters of war. Conservatives have long lamented President Obama’s over use of the executive mandate (that almighty pen), and libertarians — and even some high-profile Democrats — have been vocal to the point of town crying the need for Congressional authorization as opposed to “unilateral presidential power” when it comes to foreign policy.

So it is interesting to note that the newest legislation imposing sanctions on Russia, while that country continues to sink into a tarpit of recession, passed the House last Thursday while almost no one was there. The Senate gave its thumbs up Saturday.

Pressure had been building around the White House this week to sign the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the panel’s ranking member, during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visit to the United States in September.

It was approved by a voice vote in the Senate on Thursday, but was amended by the House to spread out military aid for Ukraine over three years instead of delivering it in fiscal 2015. The Senate gave the measure its final approval late Saturday.

What makes it interesting is that the legislation, which according to Politico, “authorizes the president to provide $350 million over the next three years in military assistance to Ukraine, including defense equipment, services and training aimed at helping the country reestablish its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” passed the House by voice vote alone. No one was around apparently to throw out a “nay” vote.

Further, the legislation (and I’d venture to say this is actually a good thing) allows for all of these things without requiring they be enacted. A rare show of conservativism, especially in the last several years. Which may explain why President Obama hedged a bit on signing it, and is singing his discontent, even while dipping his quill in ink and readying his hand for signing sometime this week.

Critics have pointed out that the legislation may cause an already manic and unstable Russia to overreact.

Lavrov pulled no punches over his contempt for Western-imposed sanctions, levied against Russia for its alleged meddling in a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine following the ouster of the pro-Kremlin president in February. …

…“Sanctions are a sign of irritation, they are not the instrument of serious policies,” he added.

Lavrov also hit out at the US Congress, which on Saturday unanimously approved the Ukraine Freedom Support Act in both houses, which includes fresh sanctions against Moscow. When asked if he believed the US was trying to impose regime change in Moscow by undermining the Russian economy, Lavrov said he had “very serious reasons to believe this is the case”.

“If you look at US Congress, 80 percent of them have never left the USA, so I’m not surprised about Russophobia in Congress,” he said.

And then there’s the consummate voice of the non-interventionist in Ron Paul who argues that the non-mandate, but only-if-necessary, nature of the bill opens the door for all-out war against Russia. Something that essentially awakens the sleeping giant known as Cold War.

The world will have to wait to see if Lavrov is merely waving a shoe around, and if the US can get on firm diplomatic footing with a country that tends to negotiate by invading other countries (or if we want to re-establish a new, different kind of relationship with them should Putin stay or go). What’s immediately apparent is that Congress has decided that if they are going to be hemmed in by the stroke of a pen, they will use their own tricks (including introducing legislation at a time when no one is on hand to oppose it) to ensure they are heard down the street on Pennsylvania Ave. I’m not sure just yet if that’s a good or a bad thing. But it’s a change from the potential tyranny of one man and a pen.

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