WASHINGTON – The administration's signature foreign aid program and Iraq reconstruction would get less money than President Bush sought in a bill a House subcommittee approved Friday.
On a unanimous voice vote, the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations panel approved a $21.3 billion measure that would pay for foreign assistance programs for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Overall, the measure is $2.4 billion less than the $23.7 billion the administration wanted.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., and the subcommittee chairman, blamed the reduction on pressures in other areas of the budget, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill would provide the $3.4 billion Bush wanted to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria throughout the world. And it has the $450 million he sought for assistance in Sudan, including $138 million for the war-ravaged Darfur region.
It also would make available $2.3 billion for the military in Israel and $120 million for economic assistance to that country, the amounts the president wanted.
The measure slices funding in two key areas.
Bush would get $1 billion less for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the administration's hallmark program designed to reward developing nations for good governance and a commitment to democracy. The president wanted $3 billion, but the House — as it has in previous years — cut his request, this time to $2 billion.
Kolbe, a longtime supporter of the program, said the lower amount was necessary because of budget constraints. "Something's got to give somewhere," he said. The $2 billion is $248 million more than the program got in the current budget.
On Iraq, the president would get $522 million in the House bill to promote stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq, roughly $227 million below the $749 million he wanted. However, $1.6 billion for the effort is included in a separate war-spending bill making its way through Congress.
"We're being very generous in our funding of Iraqi reconstruction needs," Kolbe said.
The House bill also would not provide $150 million the president initially sought in economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza.
Kolbe said the administration agreed with that reduction, given that the new Hamas-led government was elected after the president asked for the money in February. The Bush administration considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and has cut off much aid to the Palestinians.
However, the administration has pledged to help meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people through charities and other means. To that end, the House bill would provide $80 million for humanitarian assistance and democracy programs as long as the money is not used to support Hamas.