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US Spending Bill Contains Billions in Foreign Aid - 2003-02-14

A nearly $400-billion spending bill Congress is poised to approve contains about $16-billion in funding for assistance to countries around the world.

The compromise legislation which majority Republicans controlling the House and Senate want approved by Friday will finance government operations and foreign assistance for the fiscal year that began last October 1.

Its foreign aid provisions cover bilateral assistance to countries in the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan and former Soviet republics, as well as money for global efforts to combat AIDS.

The legislation meets President Bush's request for $198-million in military aid for Jordan, an increase of $123-million from 2002. Jordan also receives $250-million in economic aid.

The bill fully funds the President's request for just over $2-billion for military aid to Israel, along with $600-million in economic aid. There is $75 million in aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza goes not to the Palestinian Authority, but to non-government organizations.

Egypt gets $1.3 billion in military aid, the same as in 2002, with another $615 million in economic aid.

Congress has not yet received what is called a "supplemental" request from President Bush to pay for possible war in Iraq. However, language in the bill permits the President to waive existing sanctions on Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of any conflict.

Briefing reporters, Congressman Jim Kolbe, Chairman of the Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee, said lawmakers expect to receive what he called a huge "supplemental" request if war does becomes necessary.

He says this is expected to include significant increases for Jordan and Israel, as well as for Turkey including military assistance and debt relief.

Congress had already approved two bills last year providing $365-billion for defense.

House and Senate negotiators allocated $295-million for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

"I think there is a strong commitment here in the House, and I think in the Senate, in the Congress, for support for Afghanistan, to follow through on the commitments we have made there," said Congressman Kolbe.

On other foreign aid, the budget legislation provides a total of $800-million that can be used for efforts to deal with the global AIDS pandemic.

The legislation also contains $700-million for the Andean Counter-drug Initiative, slightly less than President Bush was seeking.

After House approval, the bill goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass, before going on to the President for his signature.