WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday cut President Bush's request for foreign aid and the State Department's budget by about 3 percent to free $1 billion for domestic programs.
The $31.8 billion measure passed by a 98-1 vote after a debate that spanned four days even though the bill was devoid of controversy.
The House had passed an even larger cut of about $3 billion from Bush's request when passing a similar bill last month.
The Senate cuts fall mainly against Bush's $3 billion request for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which rewards countries that pursue political, economic and human rights reforms. The Senate measure would provide $1.8 billion for the fledgling program.
Of the $2.5 billion appropriated in previous years for the Millennium Challenge program, only $15 million has made its way to needy countries so far, according to a report accompanying the bill. That means lawmakers in both the House and Senate aren't rushing to meet the administration's full $3 billion request for the program.
After voice vote passage Tuesday of a $100 million addition for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, the bill also would provide $3 billion for efforts to combat HIV/AIDS across the globe.
All told, the bill would provide $15.8 billion in direct U.S. economic and humanitarian aid and $4.9 billion in military aid, including $2.3 billion for Israel and $1.3 billion for Egypt.
The administration has issued a veto threat against the Senate measure since it would overturn an administration policy -- put back in place when President Bush first took office -- that bars giving aid to international family planning groups that provide abortions or advice on abortions, with rare exceptions.
The provision to overturn the rule, known as the "Mexico City" policy, is in the bill -- for now -- because despite GOP gains, a majority of the Senate continues to support changing the rule. However, it is invariably dropped during House-Senate talks on the measure and was not even a topic of debate.
Also Tuesday, the Senate rejected, 62-37, an attempt to block the Export-Import Bank from going ahead with a $3.2 billion loan to finance the construction by Westinghouse Electric Co. of nuclear power plants in China.