Getting together on foreign aid

PASSAGE by Congress and signing by the President of the first omnibus foreign-aid authorization bill since 1981 is welcome. After four years of stopgap financing of foreign aid, the House and Senate were able to agree on legislation that stabilizes funding for the next two years at $12.7 billion annually and provides a measure of continuity in foreign-aid policy. Success in producing a bill was due in large part to determination by leaders of both parties to assert more congressional control in this area of foreign policy.

Perhaps because of sharply increased concern over terrorist activities -- the act provides some $20 million for antiterrorist aid -- conservatives were able to win agreement on several key amendments. The Clark amendment of 1976, which prohibited US aid to guerrillas opposing the Marxist government in Angola, is repealed; foreign aid to nations supporting terrorism is banned; $27 million in aid to the Nigaraguan ``contras'' for nonmilitary purposes has been quietly approved; military aid to Mozambique i s banned unless the leftist government institutes certain political reforms.

On the other side, an attempt by liberal Democrats to condition military aid to the Philippines on progress in the human rights area by the Marcos government won only a ``sense of Congress'' statement, but no binding amendment. And a Democratic attempt in the House to cut the administration's request for $95 million in military aid for the Filipino government to $25 million was only partially successful; the final figure was $70 million.

Washington's stake in the stability of two friends in the Middle East is seen in $2.6 billion in economic and military aid to Egypt, and $4.5 billion to Israel.

About half of the foreign aid is economic; additional help for underdeveloped nations is provided through international organizations and the international development banks. Pressure is being brought to bear on those systems by members of Congress who wish to impose conditions linked to matters such as birth control.

Still, in terms of institutional and political progress, it is no small matter that both parties and both chambers of Congress, and the White House, have been able to forge a foreign-aid package after a four-year delay.

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