November 6, 1999

House Approves Aid Bill but Some Call It Inadequate


WASHINGTON -- The House overwhelmingly approved a compromise foreign aid bill on Friday, but some allied governments and international aid workers expressed disappointment at the debt relief for poor countries.

By a vote of 316 to 100, lawmakers agreed to an aid package negotiated by the White House and Congress on Thursday that added $799 million more than Republicans wanted to spend on matters like peacekeeping in Kosovo, nuclear security in Russia and cancellation of poor nations' debts, mostly in Africa.

The $13.5 billion measure will advance next week to the Senate, where approval is expected.

President Clinton said the bill "meets our commitments" in key policy areas. But some European diplomats here and international aid workers were more skeptical.

In debt relief, the Group of Seven industrial nations agreed in Cologne, Germany, in June to cut the debt burden of the poorest countries to ease poverty. To help pay the American share, President Clinton requested $370 million this year to help the 41 countries identified by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as "heavily indebted."

But Republicans, who included $33 million in their spending bill, agreed to only $123 million in the compromise. They said that to spend more would raid the Social Security surplus, which both parties vow to protect.

"The real danger today is not American hegemony, but American disengagement," said one diplomat from a European country involved in the debt fund set up at Cologne.

Aid workers said the United States could well afford to cancel loans to let poor countries focus their resources on needed services like education and health care. "We don't think a farmer in Mali should be selling some of his crop to go into the U.S. Treasury when they need to get children into school," said Seth Amgott, a spokesman for Oxfam, a worldwide anti-poverty agency.

The initial foreign aid bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress last month contained $12.7 billion and was vetoed by President Clinton as inadequate. The administration asked for $14.4 billion but compromised on $13.5 billion.

The compromise restored some administration priorities, including an additional $170 million in economic support funds and $150 million for development aid.

The two sides agreed earlier to spend $1.8 billion during three years to underwrite the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords. Of that amount, which provides the full amount President Clinton requested, $1.2 billion is for military support to Israel, $400 million in economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza and $200 million for Jordan.

Republicans also restored $104 million for nuclear security programs and other aid to republics of the former Soviet Union, but the $839 million total fell far short of the administration's request for $1.32 billion.

The United States has worked hard to prevent nuclear material in Russia from falling into the hands of terrorists. Even some proponents of safeguards have grown frustrated as the Russian authorities have restricted access to some sensitive nuclear sites.

But Kenneth Luongo, the head of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, a private group, said, "Given the problems in Russia, the thought that devoting less money is going to give them incentive to be more cooperative, or solve the problem faster, is inaccurate."

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