Status Quo in Aid to Israel Is Backed

A House panel approved a $12.8 billion foreign aid bill yesterday after rejecting a proposal by its chairman to end nearly two decades of preferential aid treatment for Israel.

The formula for distributing U.S. aid allows Israel to get its money all at once at the beginning of each fiscal year, but Egypt and other countries must wait for dollars to be doled out through the year. That allows Israel -- the largest recipient of U.S. aid -- to put its money in an interest-bearing account.

Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said the formula was "stupid foreign policy."

Supporters of keeping the status quo said this was no time to change the formula to Israel's disadvantage, particularly as the Mideast peace process seemed to be reviving and Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Barak, was on his way to Washington.

Congress May Give Itself a Pay Raise

Congress seems on the verge of giving itself a cost-of-living pay raise of more than $4,600, with both supporters and opponents saying they expect the proposal to prevail.

The key vote is likely to occur today, after leaders of both parties -- who support the 3.4 percent increase -- agreed to hold a House debate and roll call on the issue. Most lawmakers now earn $136,700 annually.

"People won't be able to say we slunk into this," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who supports the increase.

By law, the increase occurs automatically every year unless Congress votes to block it. The Senate has already approved the Treasury Department spending bill that is the traditional vehicle for denying the increase -- without any language stopping it and without debating it.

Demotion of General to Be Weighed

The Army is reconsidering whether a retired two-star general who admitted having sex with the wives of four subordinates should be allowed to keep his high rank and his full pension of more than $6,000 a month, officials said.

Retired Maj. Gen. David Hale, 53, was reprimanded and fined after a court-martial in March but he escaped a possible 11-year term in a military prison.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera said he is convening a special panel to recommend whether Hale should retire as a two-star major general or as a lower-ranking one-star brigadier general -- at $750 a month less.

House Backs Clinton on Mining Curbs

The House voted 273 to 151 last night to uphold the Clinton administration's efforts to limit mining operations on federal lands, putting the chamber on a collision course with the Senate. The House would require mining companies using public lands to heed a 1997 Interior Department ruling limiting the size of their waste dumps to five acres per claim. The Senate would let companies ignore that ruling.

U.S. to Buy Salmon to Help Fishermen

The United States will buy as much as $12 million worth of salmon to help fishermen who are expected to suffer because of low market prices for this year s catch, the Department of Agriculture said. Salmon prices are under pressure because large supplies are left over from last year and forecasts call for another large harvest, the government said.