A POLITICAL MANEUVER that may have seemed, for 10 days this month, to have undermined American support for the World Bank and other international lending institutions now seems to have strengthened it and put it on a more permanent, reliable basis. The manuever was the refusal by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the foreign aid appropriations subcommittee, to support the administration's request for a $237 million supplemental appropriation for three of these organizations. Mr. Obey acted when his Republican counterpart, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), moved to cut off these funds and most of the subcommittee Republicans supported it. At that point Mr. Obey and other Democrats voted against the $237 million too, and it was stricken from the bill.
That move threatened serious hrm: it would have frozen lending at the Inter-American Development Bank and would have resulted in failure to meet U.S. commitments to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. But Mr. Obey had good reason to do what he did. Bashing the international lending agencies has been a favorite sport for House Republicans for years. Mr. Kemp's attacks have at least been consistent with his own economic theories that the agencies have been too stringent on borrowers. Other Republicans have delighted in cheap-shot amendments against lending to communist countries -- amendments they know any administration must oppose because the measures violate longstanding U.S. commitments. But that didn't prevent the House Republican campaign committee two years ago from launching attacks on 21 Democratic congressmen who voted for such an amendment -- even though they were supporting President Reagan's position.
"We're not prepared to be punching bags for Little Leaguers on your side of the aisle," Mr. Obey said, and insisted that the administration get a majority of House Republicans to support this and other foreign aid bills before Democrats would support them too. His manuever seems to be working. Last week Mr. Kemp decided that a letter from Treasury Secretary James Baker removed his objections to the $237 million supplemental appropriation, and every Republican on the House Appropriations Committee voted for it; after they did, they were joined by 23 of 27 Democrats, including Mr. Obey.
So the fun is over for the House Republicans on this issue. Not all of them like it, and there's a lot of grumbling from members who, back on the stump, swore to vote against anything that even looked like a foreign aid bill. Now they are being forced to recognize, as the Reagan administration was forced to recognize, that the international lending agencies do exceedingly useful work without which, among other things, the bounteous standard of living we enjoy in the United States could not have been achieved and cannot be maintained and improved. In the short run Mr. Obey's manuever helps the Democrats politically. More important, by getting Republicans into the habit of voting for foreign aid, it helps to create again a bipartisan constituency for foreign aid programs.