July 18, 2000

 

 

Shortchanging Foreign Aid

 

New York Times, July 18, 2000

 

 

              Although there are some positive elements in the foreign aid bill that the House passed last week, it is still seriously flawed and has rightly invited a veto threat from President Clinton. The basic problem is that the overall allocation is far too low to meet American foreign policy objectives. Both the House bill and the Senate version that passed in June are nearly $2 billion below the White House request for fiscal 2001.

 

          Both spending bills make severe cuts in White House funding for multinational development banks that make basic infrastructure loans to the poorest countries. They also fail to finance international women's health programs adequately, and reduce funding for peacekeeping and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. The House, for instance, would cut the administration's contribution to development loans by 40 percent. In addition, the House bill contains an unacceptable provision that would

deny American assistance to any foreign organization that uses its own money to provide abortions or engages in political debate to change abortion laws. Under longstanding law, no United States government funds may be used to pay for abortions or to lobby on abortion policy in other countries. Last year Congress went further, barring groups from using other funds to engage in those activities. The Clinton administration accepted a one-year restriction as part of a deal with Congressional           Republicans to pay back dues owed to the United Nations. This anti-democratic gag rule on abortion advocacy should now be abandoned.

 

         Mr. Clinton is also calling on Congress to raise international family planning aid overall. The House bill maintains funding at the inadequate level of $385 million, which is 30 percent below 1995 levels, before Congress slashed the program.

 

         The House did, however, approve an amendment to increase funding for debt relief for the world's poorest nations, to meet Mr. Clinton's request of $225 million. Debt relief is crucial because the poorest nations are spending up to 60 percent of their budgets to service debt on old loans, and are unable to direct scarce resources toward health and social investments that can reduce poverty. But the House failed, as did the Senate, to provide $210 million for debt relief in supplemental spending           for the current fiscal year.

         

          The House wisely adopted an amendment to finance global AIDS programs at the president's request of $244 million. But those funds came out of other important foreign operations accounts.

 

          The Senate bill does not contain the anti-abortion provision, but it has only a paltry $75 million for debt relief, and deserves a veto for that funding shortfall. These unrealistic, crippling cuts most likely mean that the final foreign aid numbers will have to be part of the budget negotiations between the White House and Congress later in the year.