The House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee is considering a plan to impose $95 million in "user fees" for U.S. naval escort of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers as part of Congress' deficit-reduction effort for this year.
The plan came to light as the U.S. escort operation in the Persian Gulf came under renewed criticism on Capitol Hill and the Senate put off action on a new compromise aimed at exerting some congressional influence over the course of the escort operation.
Reacting to reports that the U.S. military command in the Persian Gulf is pushing to expand the operation, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said he feared "we will waltz our way into war" by aligning more firmly with Iraq against Iran in the gulf war.
Rather than rely on the escort operation, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said the United States should pursue a policy of international "containment" of Iran that would involve the Soviet Union as well as other world powers.
"The administration policy of shunning the Soviets simply encourages them to play the spoiler role and make life tougher for us. . . . If we are going to contain Iran, we have to do it with the Soviets. They are simply too important, too large and too close to Iran to exclude," Aspin said in remarks prepared for delivery to the National Women's Democratic Club.
The user-fee proposal, sponsored by Committee Chairman Walter B. Jones (D-N.C.), is expected to be approved by the panel today to meet its deficit-reduction quota without resorting to more controversial domestic measures such as user fees for Coast Guard services, panel officials said yesterday.
Although drafted as part of the budget reconciliation bill for fiscal 1988, the proposal stems from the wider debate in Congress over the administration's Persian Gulf policies, including cost of the escort operation as well as support for it from other countries.
The Senate last week approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the administration to negotiate agreements with oil-producing as well as oil-purchasing countries to reimburse the United States for their share of the operation's cost, estimated at about $20 million a month.
Under the House proposal, the reflagged Kuwaiti tankers would be charged $250,000, or actual costs, each time they pull into port under U.S. naval protection. It is expected that the costs would be passed on to purchasers of the oil, according to committee sources. Collections are expected to amount to $95 million over a year's time, slightly exceeding the committee's $94 million target for deficit reduction for the year.
The Senate plans to vote this week on a scaled-back war-powers proposal that would require a presidential report within 60 days on all aspects of the gulf operation and guarantee a vote by Congress 30 days later on legislation to modify or terminate the operation.
The proposal was introduced last week by Byrd and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, to get around an impasse over invoking the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires approval of Congress to continue a combat operation for more than 90 days.
The proposed compromise has come under fire from both sides in the war-powers dispute, however, and no agreement was reached yesterday on when the Senate will vote on it.