The stepped-up U.S. program to help boat people and other Indochinese refugees was greeted with emphatic applause and unusually swift action on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Within hours of its submission, the State Department request for $207 million for a first installment on the new program was approved without a dissenting vote by subcommittees of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.
Normally skeptical lawmarkers heaped praise on the Carter administration's initiatives at least week's Geneva conference on Indochina refugees. The U.S. efforts were hailed as symbols of effective leadership in the international community.
Congressional committees, which usually give low priority and sometimes low marks to refugee affairs, are joockeying for position in the boat people campaign, which has become a popular issue.
Sen. Edward M. Dennedy (D-Mass.), who has a longstanding interest in refugee affairs, ill move into the spotlight today as Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance testifies on the question before Kennedy's Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
Late last week three House subcommittee chairmen vied for attention as advisers to the U.S. delegation at Geneva: Lester L. Wolff (D-N.Y.) of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) of the Judiciary subcommittee on imigration and refugees, and Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa.
Just about the same time House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) created a new special unit headed by still a fourth New Yorker, Deputy Whip Benjamin Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), to make an on-the-spot survey and report on the Southeast Asia refugee situation.
Wolff, in a new conference Monday, complained that foreign governments could become confused and the refugee situation complicated by "the scrambling for position in our own Congress over who gets there first and who has jurisdiction."
Some $105 million, about half of the additional money requested yesterday, is to pick up the cost of doubling, to 14,000 per month, the number of Indochinese refugees admitted to the United States.
This U.S. pledge, announced in Tokyo last month by President Carter, was Washington's most pursuasive point in asking other nations to increase their resettlement efforts.
Most of the reservations expressed to Ambassador Dick Clark, coordinator of refugee affairs, in the to subcommittee hearings yesterday concerned the economic impact of the new arrivals at a time of rising unemployment.Clark responded by listing the new efforts of other nations and by reporting on the expectedly successful integration of previous Vietnamese refugees here.
Another $17 million is to pay for chartering four ships to transport refugees in Southeast Asia and for assigning U.S. Navy long-range reconnaissance aircraft to spot boat people in distress. The boat refugrees have been fleeing Vietnam in often unseaworthy ships for any port that will allow them to land.
The U.S. Seventh Fleet oiler Wabash picked up 19 Vietnamese in an open boat 100 miles west of the Philippines yesterday, in the first rescue under the new campaign.
The U.S. military operations were attacked by Hanoi Radio, which charged that they are intended to encourage Vietnamese to flee on the open seas to cause chaos in Vietnam.
About $84 million of the newly requested funds is for U.S. support of U.N. refugee aid programs, including a $20 million contribution to the establishment of "holding camps" in Asia. The other $1 million requested is to defray administrative costs.