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House of Representatives Set to Approve State Department, Foreign Aid Funding - 2003-07-16

The House of Representatives is poised to approve Wednesday legislation providing some $30 billion for the State Department, and a range of foreign assistance and other programs. House action Tuesday was dominated by heated debate over funding for United Nations population activities.

The legislation authorizes spending for numerous aid programs, non-proliferation efforts, contributions to international organizations, support for U.S. embassies, and an expansion of U.S. international broadcasting.

About $25 billion goes to the State Department itself, with the rest going to other important programs. One is President Bush's Millenium Challenge Account, which directs aid to countries making concrete efforts to respect human rights and promote free market economic principles.

Another is the Peace Corps. The administration wants to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers by 2007, and the bill provides for a gradual increase in funding to $500 million.

The legislation also provides $1.3 billion for a significant expansion of U.S. international broadcasting, including funds to establish a new Middle East Radio & Television Network.

"This new network will add 24 hour a day TV and radio broadcasts to the Middle East and thereby greatly contribute to an enhancement of our efforts to combat the mis-information and propaganda that contribute to the rising anti-American sentiment in the region," said Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

On specific issues, an amendment was approved expressing the view of Congress that President Bush should consider requesting NATO help in stabilizing post-war Iraq. Another calls on the Palestinian Authority to work with Israel to protect all innocent people from terrorist violence.

The bill requires reports to Congress on Colombian government efforts to prosecute paramilitary and narco-terrorists. It calls for a review of U.S. policy toward Haiti. An amendment was approved blocking any military training funds for Indonesia until the Bush administration certifies Jakarta is moving effectively to prosecute those responsible for a 2002 attack against 10 Americans.

The most controversial part of the bill had to do with funding for the U.N. Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The Bush administration last year cancelled $34 million for the agency, saying it supports forced abortions.

However, an amendment providing $50 million for the fund was approved in committee earlier this year. That set up the following exchange between Congressman Joseph Crowley, who supports funding, and Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican and a key critic of China's population policies.

Congressman Smith: The U.N. population fund has been the chief apologist for China's coercive one child per couple policy. By its words and by its actions, the UNFPA has chosen to partner with those who oppress women.

Congressman Crowley: The provision the gentleman seeks to strike does not promote abortion, forced sterilization, or any of the other horrible things that the opponents of UNFPA say it will do.

Mr. Smith succeeded in blocking any money for the U.N. population fund. The United States still contributes more than $400 million annually to population activities separate from those overseen by the United Nations.

The bill provides funding for a range of efforts to strengthen anti-terrorism and non-proliferation.

One provision calls on the Bush administration to introduce a resolution at the U.N. Security Council that would prohibit the transfer of missile technology to North Korea by any U.N. member.

Amid concern about AIDS in the Western hemisphere, the House approved an amendment to add 13 Caribbean and one South American countries to a list of those eligible for assistance from the Global Fund on AIDS.

Also approved an amendment declaring U.S. support for democracy in Iran and condemning mistreatment, imprisonment and torture of Iranians expressing political dissent.

A final vote on the State Department funding bill, and remaining amendments, was put off until Wednesday. The Senate has yet to approve its version of the foreign aid bill.