A Senate panel, setting the stage for a possible compromise with the House, yesterday approved an administration proposal to forgive about $7 billion owed to the United States by Egypt for military aid.
At the same time, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations took the unusual step of authorizing Israel to redirect up to $200 million of U.S. economic assistance to "defense purposes" during the gulf crisis.
Both provisions were included in a $15.3 billion foreign aid bill for fiscal 1991 that contains $4.69 billion in new military assistance. The military figure is some $200 million less than the administration's request, but budgetary constraints forced an even bigger shortfall in the level of economic aid. Those pressures may ease somewhat because budget summit negotiators provided some additional money for international affairs in 1991. But Congress can still rearrange the numbers.
The administration proposal to forgive the Egyptian military debt has been caught up in campaign politics in the House. House leaders want to show support for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But the provision was stripped out of an emergency spending bill that passed Sunday in deference to pleas of members facing a groundswell of voter opposition.
The Senate panel yesterday adopted the administration proposal in passing its bill, which now goes to the full committee. House members are working on a compromise that will help Egypt without giving opponents a campaign issue. Members report being deluged with mail and calls opposing the forgiveness.
Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.) said one idea is that Congress could authorize the president to forgive the loan instead of taking action itself.
The amendment to allow Israel to redirect some U.S. economic aid to defense was written by Kasten and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and was passed without dissent. But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said "additional assistance" for Israel should be considered later.
The bill closely follows the House measure in cutting U.S. military aid to El Salvador in half unless anti-government guerrillas break off peace negotiations. Aid to Jordan was left in, but an amendment would authorize the president to cut off aid to countries suspected of breaking the U.N. embargo against Iraq.