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House Approves Foreign Aid Legislation


The House of Representatives has approved by a vote of 373 to 34 a nearly $21 billion foreign aid bill, including money for key allies in the war on terrorism, as well as assistance for Darfur and funding for the battle against AIDS. Much of the debate focused on the question of U.S. assistance to Egypt.

The Foreign Operations spending bill, which is $2.4 billion below President Bush's request, typically reflects difficult choices in a tough budget environment.

It fully funds President Bush's $2.3 billion request for Israel, which gets an $83 million boost for security and counter-terrorism efforts, and $120 million dollars for economic aid.

Egypt receives $1.7 billion, with $100 million set aside specifically for political reform programs and education initiatives in that country.

For more than an hour, lawmakers debated, but ultimately rejected, a bipartisan attempt to remove $100 million from economic aid to Egypt because of Cairo's crackdown on political activists and slow progress toward reforms.

Wisconsin Democrat David Obey and Republican Jim Kolbe had this to say.

OBEY: "I hoped and expected that the government of Egypt would get the hint and make some moves to loosen its grip on political freedom and democratic reforms. Instead, I am sad to say we've gotten backsliding on municipal elections, an extension of emergency laws, repression of judicial freedoms and a crackdown on demonstrations and rallies."

KOLBE: "Any attempt to pressure Egypt into hastening its transition to democracy could push this country away from the United States and allow another foreign power to gain a foothold in the region that could be very detrimental not only to our interests but to the interests of peace in the region."

Iraq receives $522 million for stabilization efforts, more than $200 million below the president's request, but a $461 million increase over 2006 levels.

The $962 million provided for Afghanistan is $85 million more than last year, but does not meet President Bush's request, and funds are withheld because lawmakers believe the Afghan government is not doing enough to eradicate opium cultivation.

"I want to be clear that I appreciate the support of the government of Afghanistan in the war on terror," he said. "However, that government must take difficult but necessary measures to fight narcotics production and trafficking, measures that so far it has been unwilling or unable to take."

U.S. assistance to the West Bank and Gaza reflects congressional displeasure over the victory by Hamas in Palestinian elections.

Lawmakers decided to withhold $150 million in economic aid, but did provide $80 million in humanitarian and pro-democracy assistance, with the condition it is not used to support Hamas.

Roughly $3.4 billion supports President Bush's multi-year program to fight AIDS, while $445 million goes to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Although the bill was the product of bipartisan cooperation, lawmakers said they regretted areas requiring cuts, including migration and refugee assistance, peacekeeping, and economic support programs for Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey criticized the bill for placing no restrictions on military aid to two countries, Indonesia and Guatemala.

"I am disappointed that this bill places no conditionality whatsoever on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia and Guatemala," she said. "And despite constructive language on Indonesia included in the [Fiscal Year] 2006 bill, this [2007] bill fails to send the message that the U.S. does expect Indonesia to continue on the path of achieving true civilian control over the military and accountability for human rights abuses."

The House bill fully funds requested levels for Liberia, Sudan and Haiti, providing $450 million for Sudan, including $138 million for Darfur.

Lawmakers stipulated that assistance to the government in Khartoum must be used only to support the Comprehensive [North-South] Peace Agreement or the separate accord for Darfur.

Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick said Congress needs to do more for Darfur:

"We have got to do more there, we have got to rise up as a nation and offer the leadership of the United States to bring this decimation of millions of people and their lives and children to a rest," she said.

House foreign aid legislation must be reconciled with a Senate version before a final bill can go to President Bush for signature.

House and Senate conferees have been engaged in difficult negotiations on a separate spending bill containing billions of dollars for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.