WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Tuesday slashed President Bush's funding request for a key program in his campaign to spread democracy around the world.
Overall, House (search) and Senate (search) negotiators agreed to a $20.9 billion foreign aid bill — nearly $2 billion less than Bush had requested. The bill is expected to be approved by the House and Senate and then sent to the president for his signature.
Bush had wanted $3 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account (search), a program that gives countries extra money if they pursue political, economic and human rights reforms. Lawmakers, however, responding in part to tight budget constraints, approved $1.8 billion for the program; that's still $282 million above last year.
One winner in the negotiations was a fund to combat HIV/AIDS (search), tuberculosis and malaria, which would get $2.8 billion — $258 million above Bush's request and $629 million more than last year.
Lawmakers also agreed to fully fund military aid for Israel (a $60 million increase to $2.3 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion) and Pakistan ($300 million).
Afghanistan would receive economic aid of $430 million, but a provision in the bill withholds more than half of that money until U.S. officials certify that Afghanistan's government is helping fight the spread of drugs.
While $459 million was requested in aid for Iraq, the bill provides only $61 million, with lawmakers noting that more than $3.5 billion remains from the original 2003 reconstruction package of $18.4 billion.
About $830 million would go to funds helping refugees and migrants, and $400 million would go to disaster and famine relief, a jump of $33 million from last year.
Bush proposed the Millennium Challenge Account in March 2002 as a way to encourage global development by helping countries enact democratic principles. But it has been slow to get off the ground.
Congress has provided $2.5 billion for the program over the last two years — $1.3 billion less than Bush requested. The corporation overseeing the program has spent only about $4 million of that, says the Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for lawmakers.
The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations panel, Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, said of negotiations that "some painful choices certainly had to be made on both sides, given the administration's requests."
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, praised the bill, but said she was disappointed that budgetary constraints limited Congress to fund only $80 million to the World Bank's Global Environmental Facility and said she hoped more funding could be found for the next fiscal year.