The U.S. Senate has approved late Thursday a spending bill to fund State Department and other foreign operations activities. The vote was 81 to 12. But President Bush is expected to veto the measure because it also eased restriction on federal funds going to organizations that promote abortions in other countries. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The $34 billion bill represents a $3 billion increase over current funding, and is $700 million short of what President Bush had requested.
It funds efforts in the U.S. global war on terrorism, and programs to strengthen democracy and fight AIDS around the world.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who led the debate on the bill, highlighted other aspects of the legislation, including programs to promote understanding between the United States and the Muslim world:
"We provide $509 million for educational and cultural exchange programs, particularly to build bridges with predominantly Muslim countries," he said.
Leahy says the measure includes about a $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan for reconstruction and to help counter the resurgence of the Taleban and al-Qaida. He also notes the bill includes money to help refugees and displaced persons around the world, including in Darfur, Sudan, Colombia, and Iraq.
"More than four million Iraqis have fled their homes. Many of these people work for the United States government, or U.S. contractors, or U.S. news media, and they are being targeted for their affiliations, and they cannot even get help in getting out of there," he said. "Other Iraqis are being killed simply because they are academic scholars or officials of Iraq's Ministry of Education. We have a moral responsibility to help these people."
Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, praised the overall bill.
"It is important to recognize that we are a compassionate nation, committed to trying to help people who we see in need, and this bill reflects that innate quality of the American people," he said.
But President Bush has vowed to veto the bill if it lifts restrictions on family planning aid to overseas health organizations that perform abortions or promote the procedure as a means of family planning. The Senate late Thursday voted 53 to 41 to do just that, specifically agreeing to ease restrictions to allow family planning groups cut off from U.S. aid to accept U.S.-donated contraceptives.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who sponsored the amendment, argued that overseas family planning groups have been blocked from counseling women about abortion or from participating in debates about abortion policy in their own countries if they want to continue to receive U.S. aid.
"The policy literally gags foreign organizations that receive U.S. AID (Agency for International Development) family planning funds," Boxer said.
Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who is running for the Republican nomination for president and seeking to appeal to social conservatives, argued unsuccessfully against the measure.
"We should not use taxpayer dollars to fund coercive abortion," he said. "It is a brutal practice that should be stopped."
The House of Representatives passed a similar amendment when it approved its own version of the spending legislation.
Although Senator Brownback lost his bid to block Senator Boxer's provision, he did prevail in getting the Senate to pass an amendment to bar U.S. contributions to the United Nations Population Fund. The organization provides aid to China, whose population-control program relies on coerced abortions.
Earlier, the Senate approved a military construction spending bill, which includes increases in funding for construction at military bases and for veterans' health care.