Congressional Republicans and the White House reached agreement last night on foreign aid spending, according to GOP aides, even as Republican leaders sought to capitalize on public resentment toward overseas assistance.
After what some Democrats described as a disastrous bargaining session late Wednesday, aides said the two sides exchanged offers that produced a deal including the full $1.8 billion the administration sought to implement the Wye River Middle East peace accord and $799 million more for Kosovo, international debt relief, the Export-Import Bank and a handful of other overseas priorities.
While the two sides did not resolve a dispute that is holding up payment of nearly $1 billion in back dues to the United Nations, last night's breakthrough on foreign aid greatly enhanced prospects for a final budget deal in the coming week.
"We're pleased we were able to make the regular order work," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "Getting this bill done is a good first step."
Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Linda Ricci cautioned, "In principle we've reached an agreement on funding levels, but there are still a number of issues that are outstanding."
House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) said he reluctantly accepted the White House's latest offer and planned to offer it for a House vote today: "If I were in complete charge of this place, I would not do a lot of these things in this agreement."
The House and Senate, meanwhile, approved another continuing resolution to keep the government operating through Nov. 10, and President Clinton was expected to sign it.
Although the roughly $14 billion of total foreign aid for the new fiscal year is less than 1 percent of the overall $1.7 trillion annual budget, Republicans complained that there was too much of it and charged yesterday that Clinton was advocating increases at the expense of domestic programs, including Social Security.
"The White House only wants . . . to give the taxpayers' money away to foreign aid and be damned what happens at home," declared Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of sending money overseas, saying in a news conference Wednesday that it was a "disgrace" to "rob the Social Security surplus to underwrite the national debt of Nepal."
Clinton and his aides have complained in the wake of the Senate's rejection of the nuclear test ban treaty and attacks on foreign aid proposals that the Republican Congress was becoming dangerously isolationist.
"I don't know that Republicans are right to think they'll get a lot of political mileage" out of the issue, said Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Certainly some of their constituents will applaud them, but I don't know that it's a big winner with the public in general or a help in the presidential campaign."
The initial $12.7 billion foreign aid bill approved by Congress was one of four bills that Clinton has vetoed. His primary concern was that Republicans had denied his request for financial assistance to enable Israel and the Palestinians to carry out the peace agreement they reached in Maryland last year.
Even after House and Senate GOP leaders conceded full funding for the Wye River agreement this week, the White House complained that the bill still "dramatically underfunds" international debt relief, aid to Kosovo and other priorities. Republicans added money to a host of programs in response, according to aides, including $170 million for economic support funds; $150 million for international development assistance; $104 million for nuclear threat reduction in states that had belonged to the Soviet Union; $75 million for peacekeeping; and $90 million for debt relief, with the stipulation that it must be made on a bilateral basis.
Hastert, disputing Clinton's claim that the Republican Congress was isolationist and noting that Republicans were more supportive of free trade than Democrats, said, "For the president, foreign aid is the most important thing . . . [while] we focus on domestic things."