THE ANNUAL foreign aid appropriation bill is, as usual, in trouble. Should you worry about that? Not unless you believe that this country, with its immense wealth and good fortune, has some modest responsibility to help other people's economic development. But if you recognize that responsibility, you ought to be warned that the degree of peril to the appropriations bill this winter is considerably greater than usual.
The bill contains, first of all, the money for direct American aid to other economies and for any future expansion of refugee and disaster relief. It also contains the money for the international banks -- the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian and African Development Funds. These international lending operations are financed by agreements among the rich countries. It might be noted that even before this year's appropriation bogged down, the United States was running nearly $1 billion behind the commitments that a succession of American presidents have made to the banks.
This year, in addition to all of the familiar quarrels, the aid bill is jeopardized by inflation and its effect on the congressional budget process. Last November, as that process requires, Congress passed a resolution setting limits on the spending total and the size of the budget deficit. But spending has been sliding rapidly upward. The Congressional Budget Office is now completing its regular winter re-estimates, and on Tuesday will send them to the House and Senate Budget Committees.
The re-estimates will show that Congress is already well over its limits on both spending and the deficit. When the two committees formally notify their houses of this overrun, it will create an interesting parliamentary situation. Any further appropriation can then be killed by a point of order raised by any member. That situation will continue until Congress votes to increase the deficit -- in this election year, not a very attractive prospect. It will probably be done eventually, but only grudgingly, after squeezing the remaining bills as tight as possible.
The foreign aid bill is not alone. The big bill with the money for the Labor, Education and Health and Human Resources departments is still languishing. But the clients and constituencies of those departments are sufficiently numerous to provide a degree of protection. If the total is to be shaved down, it is doubtless going to be done mainly at the expense of the foreign aid bill.
A few days ago the Brandt Commission, in its report, eloquently argued the necessity of expanding aid from the countries of the industrial North to the South. The commission emphasized the North's urgent obligation to get its foreign aid up to the longstanding goal of 0.7 percent of each country's gross national product. U.S. aid last year totaled 0.27 percent of GNP. Without the foreign aid bill, the trend will be steadily downward.