THE HOUSE VOTE on the foreign-aid money was a triumph not only for good sense, but for good management as well. In late spring it looked very much as though the bill, and the whole principle of foreign aid, might be defeated outright - or subjected to an array of crippling amendments that would amount to very much the same thing. Three times the House leadership, fearing adverse votes, pulled the bill back. The tactical situation was particularly difficult because the attack on the bill was being led by Reps. Clarence Long (D-Md.) and C. W. younger (R-Fla.), the chairman and ranking Republican of the Appropriations subcommittee that wrote it.
The rescue of the bill was a remarkable example of skillful lobbying in the national interest. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) and the other members of the subcommittee took over the tactical command of the campaign, with powerful and well-focused support from the White House and the State and Treasury departments. The vulnerability of foreign aid is always obvious at first glance. The full reach of its benefits is apparent only with longer consideration. Over the years, successive presidents had paid little attention to foreign aid, and the bills suffered increasingly from inattention.
That decline reached a low point in June, when the Carter administration and the congressional supporters of foreign aid suddenly realized they had to make the fundamental case for it. Congressmen with doubts about the appropriation began getting phone calls from labor unions and businesses at home, reminding them that most of the aid money is spent in the United States, on American products. Some congressmen had been inclined to cut out aid to countries with poor records on human rights; there were long conversations with diplomats emphasizing the total loss of American influence and leverage that would follow any vote to end aid. Some congressmen were thinking about using aid restrictions to protect certain American products from greater foreign competition; the waverers got the opportunity to reflect on the infinite possibilities for foreign retaliation. Sometimes the House votes in haste, and carelessly. But the bill's managers ensured that members would have time to think about the consequences of their decisions. The outcome was a clear decision to carry on the 30-year American tradition of foreign aid.
But it was not a complete victory. While most of the wrecking amendments were defeated, the House passed two that will make serious trouble if the Senate does not delete them. They involve aid - the key term is "indirect" aid - to Cuba and Vietnam. This bill includes the American contribution to the World Bank and the other international lending agencies. All the contributions go into one pool of money from which all the loans are made. That prohibition on indirect aid to those countries would prevent the World Bank from giving them any aid at all.
The other countries contributing to the World Bank would see these restrictions, correctly, as an American attempt to turn a cooperative international agency to its own political purposes. That's why the World Bank will not accept money with this kind of string attached. But the American contribution is the foundation on which is built a great structure of other nations' money, plus in investments by commercial banks and private lenders. The poor nations' access to capital depends crucially on the World Bank. It would be wanton to jeopardize that structure to score a point - more accurately, half a point - in this country's quarrel with two small and undeveloped countries.