Washington, 29 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of the U.S. House of
Representatives hope a compromise reached last week with
anti-abortion activists in the House will enable them to bring the
$12.3 billion U.S. foreign aid bill to the floor for a vote
before Congress adjourns on Friday for its summer recess.
The issue that has delayed House action on the foreign aid bill has
nothing much to do with economic assistance for emerging democracies.
The problem arose because of a demand by Congressman Christopher
Smith (R-New Jersey) for a ban on the granting of U.S. foreign aid
funds to private groups which use their own money to perform or
promote abortions abroad.
Smith is the co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and
Cooperation in Europe and is known throughout Central and Eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union as a champion of human rights.
However, he is also an unbending foe of abortion, and believes it is
wrong for the U.S. to indirectly subsidize the procedure.
Since 1973, U.S. law has prohibited direct funding for abortions in
foreign countries. Smith, however, contends that the U.S. continues
to indirectly subsidize abortions by giving grants to such
organizations as International Planned Parenthood of London. Smith
says organizations such as Planned Parenthood use their own funds to
promote abortions or perform them.
He plans to submit an amendment to the House version of the foreign
aid bill that will include the anti-abortion provision, prompting a
warning from the White House that President Bill Clinton would likely
veto the foreign aid bill if it reached his desk with the
The Clinton Administration says the anti-abortion provision would
prevent U.S. assistance to groups that provide urgent family planning
programs in developing countries and that a ban on U.S. aid would
lead to more abortions, not less.
House leaders say the fight may be avoided, however. They say that
Smith will propose his amendment. But Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
(D-California) will also submit an amendment that would ban U.S.
funds for groups which promote abortion as a family planning method.
Congressional leaders are hoping House members will choose the Pelosi
amendment over the Smith proposal.
The foreign aid measure has already been approved by the Senate. The
Senate measure includes $485 million in economic assistance
for Eastern and Central Europe -- including the Baltic states -- and
$800 million for the states of the former Soviet Union.
The version of the foreign aid bill before the House would
appropriate $470 million for Central and Eastern Europe and $625
million for the former Soviet states. The differences between the
House and Senate bills will be worked out in a committee of House and
Senate members, after the House acts on its spending legislation.
The Congress must approve a total of 13 separate pieces of spending
legislation to finance the U.S. Government for the financial year
that begins next October First. Each chamber of the legislature
drafts its own budget legislation after the President submits his
spending requests. The House and Senate first debate their own
measures, then work out the differences and agree on one measure
which is sent back to each chamber for a final vote. The legislation
then goes to the President for enactment.
Congressman Smith's anti-abortion sentiment has also stalled action
on the legislation that would authorize the programs of the U.S.
State Department for another two years. His amendment was attached to
the House version of the State Department bill. The Senate had passed
its own version of the measure without any reference to abortion, and
now the differences between the bills must be worked out.
In the U.S. legislative system, government departments are funded
annually by the Congress. However, every two years, the Congress must
grant authorization for continuation of a cabinet department's or
government agency's operations and programs.
The committee of House and Senate members is to meet this week to
try and work out the differences in the State Department measure.
Controversial amendments are frequently stricken from legislation
during these House-Senate conference meetings, but Smith is insisting
that his anti-abortion proposal be retained.
U.S. Senate leaders are especially anxious to finish work on the
State Department bill. This year's authorization measure includes a
provision that will reorganize the State Department by eliminating
the independent Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Agency
for International Development and assigning their functions to the
State Department. It also includes provides $819 million to
pay U.S. debts to the United Nations in exchange for management
reforms at the UN.