Meet the Other 535 Secretaries of State
Spending bill shows how lawmakers keep an eye on White House foreign forays
WASHINGTON — A recurring joke around the State Department is that the United States has 536 secretaries of state: one at its Foggy Bottom headquarters and 535 on Capitol Hill.
The joke's not so far off the mark. Right now, Congress is sparring with the White House over US payment of its back United Nations dues, for one thing. Over the past 12 months, legislators have expressed differences with the administration over such crucial policies as aid to Russia and Ukraine, the location of Israel's capital, North Korea, and human rights in Burma and Haiti.
Some might call this micromanagement. Others might judge it legitimate congressional oversight of one of the executive branch's most important powers: the ability to shape foreign relations.
Congress and the executive branch have often sparred over foreign affairs. Indeed, the postwar bipartisan consensus that reigned until the Vietnam War tore it apart was an exception, not the rule.
Early in the republic, Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans favored France, while John Adams's Federalists tilted toward Britain. After World War I, a Republican Congress embarrassed Democratic President Woodrow Wilson by refusing to enter the Wilson-inspired League of Nations. More recently, Congress forced the Reagan and Bush administrations to take a tougher stand against the apartheid regime then ruling South Africa.
Such disagreements between Capitol Hill and the White House reflect deep concerns among the American public, which often sees US foreign policy differently than does the governing elite.
THE big omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress last fall is a good place to see legislators at work in the field of foreign policy. It was a crucial piece of legislation that funded much of the government for fiscal year 1997. President Clinton was thus unlikely to veto the bill just because he disagreed with an overseas provision or two.
The administration won some significant victories with passage of the bill. For example, a Senate bill sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina would have abolished the United States Information Agency (USIA), the Arms Control and Development Agency (ACDA), and the Agency for International Development (AID). Instead, all three agencies survived. ACDA and USIA got higher appropriations from House-Senate conferees than either house had approved. AID, on the other hand, took a $30 million cut from the fiscal 1996 budget, which was a 23 percent reduction from 1995.
Congress and the White House disagree mightily over payment of the US dues to the UN, which are $1.8 billion in arrears. The president and the State Department want the bill paid, saying failure to do so undermines US policy worldwide. Congress refuses to pay until the UN corrects what it sees as wasteful spending and personnel practices.
The bill appropriates money to pay this year's dues, but holds back $100 million unless the secretary of state certifies by Jan. 31, 1997, that the UN hasn't increased program funding without corresponding cuts elsewhere.
The conferees also provided $332 million for international peacekeeping, but applied only $50 million to the overdue payments, and only then if the UN fulfills two of three conditions: (1) saves $100 million over two years in certain specified areas; (2) reduces its staff 10 percent over two years; (3) cuts its budget in the 1998-99 budget period.
"The conferees cannot support payment of arrearages if the funding will be used to support wasteful, business-as-usual practices," the conference report says. "Any effort to address arrearages will be taken a step at a time, and a year at a time, and should be proportional to the reform that the United Nations achieves."
Other disagreements include:
*Russia and Iran. The House-Senate conferees approved aid to Russia only if the president certifies that Russia has agreed not to sell Iran materials for its nuclear-energy program. But they allowed the president to waive the provision on national-security grounds. Such waivers are a way to hold the administration's feet to the fire while not restricting the president's foreign-policy options.
*North Korea. Congress agreed to give $25 million to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, a body formed by several countries to assist North Korea's nuclear-energy program in return for a North Korean agreement to submit to international inspections and abide by international safeguards. But to spend the money, the president must certify that North Korea is fulfilling a long list of conditions. A national-security waiver is included, but the president and secretary of state are required to submit several reports on North Korean behavior.
*Haiti. Congress limited aid to the Haitian government unless certain conditions are met or the president waives the requirements.
*Jerusalem. The House-Senate conferees deleted a requirement passed by the Senate that all US government publications refer to the capital of Israel as Jerusalem, but agreed that "all relevant United States government publications should refer to the capital of Israel as Jerusalem." The US, like almost all countries, does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
*Burma. Congress appropriated $2.5 million "to support democracy and humanitarian programs in Burma," to be made available inside and outside the country. The administration opposes such funding.
*Ukraine. The bill provides for the cutoff of aid to Ukraine if it is found by the president to be cooperating militarily with Libya, but included a national-security waiver.
*The first part of this series appeared on Dec. 30.