November 5, 1999
Giving In on Foreign Aid Bill, G.O.P. Finds an Election Issue
Issue in Depth: The Budget
By TIM WEINER
ASHINGTON -- The White House and Congress agreed Thursday night to cut a deal on a foreign aid
bill, adding $799 million more than
Republicans wanted to spend, Congressional aides said.
But in the battle, Republican leaders see a golden opportunity to paint
Democrats as more concerned about
helping foreigners than protecting
For two days, the Republicans
held up the foreign aid bill -- and
with it, the battle over the budget, in
which 5 of the year's 13 spending
bills remain unsigned -- arguing
over the desire of the White House to
spend $370 million to ease the debts
of 41 impoverished nations, mostly in
Clinton has said the aid will
"enable the world's poorest and
most heavily indebted countries to
finance health, education and opportunity programs."
The House majority whip, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, calls
it an effort to "rob the Social Security surplus to underwrite the national
debt of Nepal."
And aides to Speaker J. Dennis
Hastert and DeLay say Democrats want to spend money on foreign aid that would come from the
Social Security surplus, which both
parties have sworn to protect. The
aides said the Republican leaders
thought that argument could be instrumental in helping Republicans
keep control of Congress in the 2000
One aide said it boiled down to
this: "Ghana versus Grandma."
The aides said the Republicans
would paint the Democrats as willing
to put foreign potentates before aging Americans. "All they want,"
Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, said on the
House floor today, "is to give the
taxpayers' money away to foreign
countries and be damned what happens at home."
The Republicans' tactics became
clear during tense talks between
Congress and the White House.
The bill passed by the Republican
Congress contained $12.7 billion, 14
percent less than Clinton's request. On Oct. 18, he vetoed it, calling
it "another sign of the new isolationism that would have America bury
its head in the sand at the height of
our power and prosperity."
The negotiators went into closed-door conference in Hastert's office on Wednesday night thinking
they might make a deal. They did
not. A serious sticking point developed: debt relief for foreign nations.
The President wanted $370 million,
about $1.20 per American, to help the
41 nations identified by the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund as "heavily indebted"
lighten the burden of their poverty.
Thirty-three of those nations, including Ghana, are in Africa.
But the Republicans held the line
on debt relief at $123 million. This
quarter-billion dollar difference was
the biggest barrier to completing the
bill. Tonight, a senior Republican
aide said they had won that argument.
In the end, the Republicans agreed
to a White House proposal to add
$799 million to their $12.7 billion bill.
The major increases were $170
million in economic support funds,
$150 million for international development assistance, $104 million for
nuclear-security programs in the
former Soviet Union, and $75 million
for peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. They earlier agreed to spend $1.8
billion over three years to underwrite Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
Now the White House and Congress will move on to negotiations
over four more bills, financing the
Departments of Commerce, Justice,
State, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development and federal money
for the District of Columbia. They set
a new deadline tonight: Wednesday.
The Republican leaders, including
Hastert, voiced unhappiness at
having had to add nearly $2.6 billion
to the foreign aid bill, which will now
have to pass the House and Senate.
And Republicans said the argument
over foreign aid versus Social Security would be a main campaign theme
There will be rebuttals. For example, it could be said that the Republican-written spending bills dip by
more than $17 million into Social
Security. Since money comes from
the same pot, any program can be
identified as the one that used Social
Security money. Opponents of more
military spending, for example, point
out that Congress increased Pentagon spending by $17 billion.
DeLay's view of debt relief --
he calls it "American taxpayer dollars sent overseas to subsidize the
corruption and mismanagement of
foreign countries" -- resonates with
But not all.
Pat Robertson, the
founder of the Christian Coalition
and a former Republican presidential candidate, supports debt relief.
So do Pope John Paul II, the World
Bank and most of the world's aid
"The debt-relief initiative sends
our tax dollars to make sure children
are educated and vaccinated, and
there are roads to get farmers' goods
to markets," said Seth Amgott,
spokesman for Oxfam, a worldwide
antipoverty agency. "An American
contribution to that effort is entirely
worthy and eminently affordable."