U.S. foreign aid has become so "warped" toward short-term military and political uses that the tiny amount left for development may not be worth the effort of passing it, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) said yesterday.
"I've developed substantial doubt about the utility of getting political double hernia for something that small," said Obey, the new chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. "Maybe we ought to just say, 'Hey, it's over.' "
In a wide-ranging interview, Obey said he would seek "strong conditions" on new aid to El Salvador to strengthen President Jose Napoleon Duarte against rightist opponents.
Obey, who has a considerable voice in shaping foreign aid legislation, also said that he agrees with the Reagan administration that Israel should make major structural reforms in its economic system before receiving any further aid, and that he resents being pressured to maintain a balance between aid to Egypt and Israel, unrelated to their needs.
As new chairman, "I think I have an advantage in trying to get the priorities changed this year," he said.
Obey, an active leader of the House's liberal bloc, said he would hold hearings on the origins and goals of foreign aid policy "I've developed substantial doubt about the utility of getting political double hernia for something that small." -- Rep. David R. Obey before considering the administration's requests. "I have very great doubts about the utility of pursuing a package that's become so warped as foreign aid has," he said, adding that "the warp has accelerated" under the Reagan administration.
Less than $2 billion of the administration's $14.8 billion aid proposal for fiscal 1986 is targeted for long-term economic development, which is the supposed goal of all foreign aid, and that $2 billion is so scattered worldwide that it is "virtually invisible," Obey said.
Administration bans on funds for countries or groups that promote abortion "assure that population control programs are going to be ineffective" in all other ways as well, he continued, even though population control in the Third World is so crucial "that nothing else in the aid program matters."
Obey said that he was not suggesting elimination of aid for political and military purposes, and that he will not seek more funds than the administration has requested, "but I certainly intend to look at where we ought to cut it."
Under Obey's predecessor, former representative Clarence D. Long Jr. (D-Md.), the foreign operations subcommittee became a major stumbling block for the administration's efforts to boost military and economic aid to El Salvador for its war against leftist guerrillas.
Obey said El Salvador's right wing "misread the situation" after President Duarte obtained $532 million in assistance last year and "thought they could do anything they wanted" in frustrating Duarte's efforts toward economic reform and dialogue with the guerrillas.
The rebels, Obey added, "did their part to screw things up with their silly, overblown demands," but this year's aid should include "devices" to strengthen Duarte's hand. The administration has asked for $350.6 million in economic aid and $132.6 million in military assistance for El Salvador.
Obey said he opposes further aid to antigovernment rebels in Nicaragua, in part because he cannot see "what is the administration plan for step four and five or in the end." The leftist Sandinista rulers are "very immature" and as divided as the Reagan administration on how to resolve the conflict, he said.
Turning to the Middle East, Obey said economic reform "is in Israel's best interests as well as our own," and said he will not "end run the administration" in its pressure for changes before granting Israel's request for $1.5 billion over two years. He acknowledged, however, that Congress probably will provide "whatever Israel's supporters feel they ought to get."
Egypt, he continued, "has no right" to receive matching funds for the sole sake of balance.
Obey said he hopes to recut the aid pie to give larger shares to population control efforts and agricultural bootstrap operations. "Instead of spreading our money around to so damn many countries," he said, "we ought to concentrate our resources more on the poorest ones." CAPTION: Picture, Rep. David R. Obey . . . $2 billion is "virtually invisible"