Today the House passed a bill to provide loan guarantees for Ukraine on a vote of 385-23. While I very much applaud the underlying sentiment behind this $1 billion dollar loan guarantee package, I ultimately found myself on the dissenting side of this vote for a few reasons.
My difficulty here ultimately stems from the kneejerk reaction that the President and Congress too often seem to have in situations like these -- spending or committing more in the way of funds before looking at other options. It seems to me that there are two ways of offering help for this conflict in the Crimean Peninsula. The first would be aiding the Ukraine, and the second lies in pushing back against Putin. Within those two choices, I think there's a whole range of creative ways to exert American influence instead of just writing a check.
In that respect, given Admiral Mike Mullen's contention that America's "Achilles heel," or the greatest threat to our safety and security is the national debt, I believe Congress's gut reaction of committing money right away is wrong. In looking at a host of different options, Congress may quickly get to the point of committing aid, but I think that at a minimum that aid should be a part of a broader, comprehensive package. Too often, Congress simply wants to do something so that they can show that they've done something, and in those instances I'm not sure that something is better than nothing in terms of outcome.
A different option instead is one that has been pointed out by several very good op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and other places is the sanctions mechanism in the Magnitsky Act, which would offer a more targeted approach. This would allow us to directly sanction the Russian oligarchs who are friends of Putin, and part of the apparatus that keeps him in power. Putin has proven himself to be something of a bully in that part of the world. Accordingly, given his pattern of behavior, I think we should bear in mind that bullies respond to direct force against them, rather than aid to those they're bullying.
One of the ways to do that would be to target those who have aided and abetted Putin in this latest show of force. The Magnitsky Act does this by impacting their assets, like the real estate they own in Miami or their financial holdings in New York. I think there's something wrong when a Russian oligarch who helps someone like Putin maintain power can have residences in the United States and keep his financial assets here, but face no consequences. It seems like targeting that would be a logical first step instead of putting American taxpayers on the hook for more money, and as such, I found myself voting the way I did on the option that came before the House today.
I again want to be clear that I'm not against exploring the option of increasing aid to Ukraine over the long run. But simply defaulting to the typical bias of committing money first and looking at other creative and targeted solutions later seems to undermine the very foundation of our own national security.