THE $9.4 billion foreign-aid bill passed the House by a voice vote Wednesday after supporters beat back a slew of parliamentary and verbal attacks on foreign aid in general and aid to Russia in particular. Rep. Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersey opposed the bill because it did not specify that United States ships would haul foreign aid abroad. Other congressmen said that Russia should pay for its $900 million in aid with its oil and other natural resources.
Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R) of New York tried to install a "sunset" amendment that would require the Agency for International Development (AID), core of the foreign-assistance program with its $6.8 billion annual budget, to disappear at the end of the 1994 fiscal year and replace itself with a leaner aid system.
Opponents said they got no mail in support of foreign aid, and also that Americans needed help at home. One woman asked for a set percentage of foreign-aid purchases to go to American minority contractors. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana said that none of the developing countries getting US aid in the past 30 years has become developed.
But the new administrator of AID, J. Brian Atwood, said in an interview before the debate that several countries have indeed graduated from US foreign- aid dependency: Taiwan, Korea, Mauritius, Thailand, and Costa Rica.
Defenders of the foreign-aid program insisted in the House debate that Americans benefit from the aid twice: by selling to the government the materials and expertise shipped abroad and by subsequent sales to the third world as demand develops.
But bowing to a spate of negative press reports about AID's inefficiencies and several studies that recommended reforming its bureaucracy, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, slapped on his own "sunset" amendment requiring AID to cease to exist by September 1995 unless it wins congressional approval for promised reforms. He pointed out that the bill is $600 million leaner than last year's.
Following the voice vote approving the authorization of the foreign-aid budget Wednesday, Mr. Atwood told the Monitor that he was "encouraged" by the vote and "passage of the bill shows a strong, positive bipartisan concern for the reform of AID."
Mr. Hamilton said the bill "advances our economic interests and creates jobs" as well as furthering "important US foreign policy goals in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East."
But passing the House is not enough. The bill now goes to the Senate, then to a conference committee, and back to both houses before a likely presidential signature. No foreign-aid bill since 1985 has passed all those pitfalls, although foreign aid continued to flow under other legislation.
Campaign-spending bill freed from filibuster
An alliance of Democrats and moderate Republicans crushed a Senate GOP filibuster Wednesday, virtually ensuring Senate passage of a campaign-spending bill designed to curtail special- interest clout in Congress. The measure, which would radically change the rules for congressional races, includes authority to use public financing. It sets voluntary spending limits to make challengers more competitive. And it prohibits contributions by political action committees run by corporations, labor unions, and ot her special interests.
The bill would control overall campaign financing and reduce the influence of money in deciding elections. Supporters and opponents agreed that it would be passed and sent to the House.