A proposal by two Republican senators running for reelection for a new commission to fight the international drug trade -- with seven seats for senators and $325,000 in funding -- has caused quite a stir on the Hill.
The American International Narcotics Control Commission would include four seats for Republicans and three for Democrats -- plus five more for private-sector experts. The proposal was sponsored by Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) and defended on the floor by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.).
Rather than taking a direct legislative route, the two senators used time-tested parliamentary maneuvers. First they obtained authorization for the new commission in an amendment to a pending State Department authorization bill. The next day, they addressed the funding problem in an amendment to the appropriations bill for Senate legislative activities, pending on the Senate floor.
"Could we not add more to offshore work as it relates to keeping the drug problem out of this country than to give seven senators an opportunity to sit down sometime and get a little television?" Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) asked colleagues Wednesday when the appropriation measure came before the full Senate.
The commission proposal is all but certain to clear the House, since neither chamber customarily tampers with the other's appropriations bill for its own operations.
Hawkins, who has accused Latin American countries including Nicaragua and Cuba of drug profiteering and who in 1983 took her antinarcotics crusade to Turkey, Thailand, Burma and Pakistan, was described by one of her aides yesterday as a front-runner to head the new commission. She already chairs the Senate subcommittee on children, family, drugs and alcoholism.
According to the aide, the new commission will monitor international treaties designed to prevent drug smuggling. "It would be based on the Helsinki model," said the aide, referring to the committee made up of House, Senate and executive branch members that monitors international compliance with the Helsinki accords on human rights.
Asked if the commission's $325,000 budget would include money for senators to travel abroad, the aide said: "Members and staff would have to examine from the field on whether nations are complying with the treaties."
Hawkins told Senate colleagues that the funds would create "an international forum for consideration of narcotics control efforts worldwide." But it is not clear how the new commission will supplement existing bodies dealing with narcotics abuse.
For example, the House -- which has a Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control -- decided not to take part in the new body. The International Narcotics Control Task Force is also run under the auspices of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"There is definitely duplication," a spokesman for the House select committee said, "but this is their the Senate's thing."
A Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman said he had not heard of the proposed commission. "We cannot comment at this stage," he said. But he said the DEA has 180 agents overseas, many in regular touch with foreign governments in an effort to crack down on drug trafficking and abuse.
During the brief Senate debate, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) said: "This may become known as the congressional session that did not do very much, but every time it got into a bind, it could not deal with an issue, it created a new commission -- a new commission to spend money, to talk, talk, talk."