Secretary of State George P. Shultz launched a new bipartisan effort yesterday to rebuild the depleted constituency for U.S. foreign assistance programs.
Addressing the first meeting of the newly created Commission on Security and Economic Assistance, Shultz asked for a careful restudy of foreign aid programs and budgetary allocations as well as ways to justify them to the American public.
The commission, headed by former deputy secretary of defense Frank C. Carlucci, includes members of the House and Senate as well as representatives of business, labor and the academic world. It is expected to have public hearings as well as extensive consultation with members of Congress and to report in about six months. Undersecretary of State William Schneider Jr., outlining the plight of the overseas assistance programs, said that in only one year of the past five has a foreign operations appropriation bill passed Congress, and that last year the administration's authorization request did not even get as far as floor debate in either the House or the Senate.
In the absence of completed foreign assistance bills, the executive branch has been forced to operate on the basis of "continuing resolutions," which seriously restrict aid programs.
In fiscal 1982, the one recent year when both authorization and appropriations bills for foreign aid were passed, Schneider said, almost as many Republican House members (86) voted against the authorization bill as voted for it (97) despite the fact that it was part of President Reagan's program. He said 98 Democrats also opposed passage of the bill.
"The foreign assistance consensus has been to a significant degree undermined by the defection of many members of Congress who cannot perceive a linkage between foreign assistance, and particularly security assistance, and the core of our national interests," Schneider said.
Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), who described himself as a consistent supporter of foreign aid programs in the past, told the commission that there has been "a great division or lack of support" among Americans in recent years about aid programs. Unless the American people can be persuaded to support the programs, Fascell warned, Congress will not go along with them.