The House voted yesterday to cut off $56 million in Food for Peace aid to South Korea in retaliation for the Seoul government's refusal to allow questioning of a former ambassador to the United States suspected of making pay-offs to House members.
The 273-to-125 vote came on an $18 billion agriculture appropriations bill that the House later approved by a vote of 326 tp 59.
Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) offered the amendment to cut off the funds, saying the action was necessary because a "question of honor is involved. A cloud of suspicion hangs over the House of Representatives and that must be dispelled."
A spokesman for the Korean embassy called the action "regrettable" particularly because "it ignores the cooperation that the Republic of Korea already has extended" to the investigation of alleged influence-buying. "We wish to make clear once again that the position of my government to render its cooperation consistent with international law and practice remains unchanged," the spokesman, Su-doc Kim, said.
Former Korean ambassador Kim Dong Jo is alleged to have given money to as many as 10 members of the House, according to Leon Jaworski, the special counsel of the House Committee on Standards of Office Conduct.
For House members to take money from officials of a foreign government is a crime.
Efforts by Jaworski to get Kim to testify hava failed up to now. Jaworski informed House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) by letter Tuesday that he had even agreed to back off from his demand for sworn testimony and allow Kim to answer written questions, provided the committee could be assured that the answers were "fortright" but that the Koreans had refused that offer.
Wright said yesterday "there was no alternative but for the House to back up a resolution it passed May 31 threatening to cut off $227 million in direct military aid the United States gives Korea. "We're not about to cut off our nose to spite our face," he said.
He said another aid cutoff might be added to the foreign aid appropriations bill when it comes to the floor in a couple of weeks, bur Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.) said the only money for Korea in that bill was to fund the activities of the Peace Corps in Korea.
Minority leader John Rhodes (R-Ariz) said he supported the aid cutoff but was "appalled" that Jaworski appeared to have "given away the ball game" by backing down on his demands for sworn testimony and setting for answers instead. I'm not sure he hasn't already given away the possibility of getting any meaningful testimony from kim Dong Jo," Rhodes said.
Opponents of the aid cutoff called it a "hollow gesture" that would hurt the people of Korea but not its government and hurts U.S. farmers who sell their products to foreign countries through the Food for Peace program, a program that extends 30-year and 40-year loans to countires so they can buy U.S. grains and agricultural products.
Ironically, it was commissions on sales of rice to Korea - partly in commercial transactions, but partly through Food for Peace - arranged by Korean businessman Tongsun Park that led to the Korean influence-buying scandals Congress is still trying to resolve.
Rep. C. W. (Bill) Young (R-Fla.) argued that when other aid restrictions have come up, the Democratic leadership has pleaded that "the poorest of the poor should not be punished for the transgressions of their leaders."
Rep. Neal Smith (D-Iowa) called the Food for Peace aid the "weakest possible tool" the leadership could use, and said Korea could easily but food from other countried anxious to sell surplus crops.
Rep. B.F. Sisk (D-Calif,) noted revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency and government officials had given money to friendly legislators in the Italian parliament. "If Italy decided to hold hearings on the American money and they decided to subponea our ambassador and the head of the CIA, I don't think there is any questions but that we would raise up in holy horror ar such a request."
Rep. Andrew Jacobs (D-Ind.) said, "There's a question as to whether a dictator cares if we cut off aid to his people so long as we send him guns to keep them in line."
But Rep. Jim Johnson (R-Colo.) said korea could not be a friendly government when it bribed officials and adopted pratices designed to subvert the U.S. government.
In other action, the House refused to cut $290 million from the food stamp program by a 204-to-191 vote. Rep. John Rousselot (R-Calif.) said a government report showed $500 million out of the $5 billion food stamp program was wasted annually. But Rep. Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.) said new regulations to cut down on food stamp abuse were to take effect Oct. 1 and that the House should give them a chance to work.
The House also refused by a 201-to-189 vote to cut by 2 percent the nonmandated money in the bill.
Meanwhile, a foreign aid appropriations bill, in deep trouble in the House, has been pulled off the scheduled for the House floor until after the July 4th recess, to give the Democratic leadership time to try to round up votes to pass it.