Once again, the debate over foreign aid is being waged on Capitol Hill. It's an annual rite, but the last time Congress actually produced a foreign-aid bill was 1981. As a result, spending for foreign aid has been included in special catch-all ``continuing resolutions'' passed at the end of each session.
The failure to enact foreign-aid legislation reflects a collapsing consensus on the role US aid should play in advancing US policies abroad.
This year, congressional sources are more hopeful, though still guarded, about chances for success. The first big hurdle was cleared last week when the Senate passed its first foreign-aid bill since 1981.
Now it's up to the House, which takes up foreign aid after next week's Memorial Day recess. Two House bills -- one passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the other a Republican substitute -- have been opposed by the Reagan administration.
To pass a bill this year, differences between the House and the administration will have to be reconciled. Sticking points will be levels of US security assistance and conditions on aid to countries like Jordan, the Philippines, and Pakistan.
The House, like the Senate, will also have to sidestep the issue of US aid to rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government.