Just before leaving town last month, Congress passed two foreign aid bills that, with the president's signature, are now the law of the land. This was the first year in three that produced an appropriation bill--and it may also be the last for a while.
To keep liberals and other traditional supporters on board, the bills did reasonably well by human needs accounts--the Peace Corps, Agency for International Development and various United Nations agencies. At the same time, the package was sold to conservatives as an investment in "an immeasurable increase in national security" military aid and economic assistance to strategic friends.
Passage of the two measures was due to unexpected restraint among both groups and to effective pressure by the administration. Yet until the final gavel, it was more likely that neither bill--rather than both bills--would be enacted.
Had conservatives pressed amendments to bring U.S. law into line with emerging administration policy on El Salvador and Angola, traditional aid supporters would have bolted. Conversely, had such supporters insisted on the funding for human needs programs they considered essential, conservatives would have jumped ship.
In the appropriation bill, the issue turned on finding the highest possible figures for the World Bank's International Development Association that conservatives could live with, in return for more military aid than traditional supporters would normally have accepted. A shift of as little as $10 million in either direction would have been fatal. The resulting $11.5 billion bill increases human needs aid by $350 million over current levels, security aid by $800 million.
The support that coalesced last year is unlikely to do so again in the near future. The president's 1983 budget will once again propose less for domestic social programs and probably more for foreign aid. But the aid increase will probably once again disproportionately favor the security side. Those who believe that development assistance should be the preferred U.S. investment in the Third World may not give the administration the benefit of the doubt the next time around. Even last year's foreign aid package contains precious little for poverty-oriented development. Equally dubious is the normally heavy commercial element in foreign aid, including this year over $4 billion to keep U.S. exports competitive. In addition, the administration's heavy emphasis on using foreign aid to stimulate private-sector activities at home and (selectively) abroad may penalize some of the neediest countries whose development strategies are not geared toward "the magic of the marketplace." It's getting harder to make the case that the foreign aid package does much for the poor.
Most ominous is the jostling between two fundamentally different conceptions of aid. Some are as put off by the expenditure of fully 70 percent of U.S. bilateral aid in the United States itself as others are impressed by it. The $3.2 billion aid proposal waiting in the wings for Pakistan is controversial. Will more military aid to the Third World preempt scarce resources here and abroad or provide the stability in which development can take place?
Last year's shaky aid consensus may well collapse. From a human needs standpoint, that might not be so bad. A foreign aid program that seeks to be all things to all people is likely to do poorly by the poorest.
An aid package with less in it for human needs may, to be sure, attract new congressional and popular support. It may also alienate some whose support is needed to ensure both its enactment and its balance.