Seeking to defuse anger among women's groups, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright vowed yesterday that President Clinton's next budget proposal would sharply increase U.S. funding for international family planning programs.
Albright, who attended a luncheon with leaders of women's groups and family planning organizations, said the administration "remains deeply dissatisfied" with restrictions on aid to family planning groups that it reluctantly accepted in order to obtain money to pay U.S. debts to the United Nations in the fiscal 2000 budget.
Taking aim at members of Congress who insisted on those restrictions as a condition for U.N. funding, Albright said "it is unwise, illogical and wrong to hold our obligations to the United Nations hostage to an extremist agenda on international family planning."
For fiscal 2001, Albright said, Clinton will ask Congress for $541.6 million for those programs, up from the $385 million in the budget deal completed last week. If the request is approved, it will return family planning funds to their record 1995 levels.
Albright's announcement of a budget line item at this time is highly unusual. Normally, the president reveals his budget requests in January or early February. Government agencies and departments were just told that they should give their requests, or "passbacks," to the Office of Management and Budget on Dec. 6.
But State Department officials said Albright had cleared the number with OMB Director Jacob "Jack" Lew.
The unusual step was motivated by concern about a backlash among women's groups to the administration's deal with congressional Republicans. The budget accord restricts spending on groups abroad that promote abortion, and it withholds $12.5 million in grants to family planning organizations around the world.
"This is part of her effort to soften the effect of the unfortunate compromise we had to make," said a senior State Department official. "There is a lot of unhappiness among those who support family planning. She wanted to find a way to soften that blow."
Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, called Albright's pledge "a first step to repairing the damage done by the bad deal the administration struck."
Michelman said women's groups realized that Albright had been a longtime supporter of abortion rights and that "this was not a choice she would have made if the administration had not been blackmailed." But the restrictions still should have been rejected, Michelman said.
Albright, however, said that "for three years, we fought as hard as we could to break this linkage" imposed by congressional Republicans. "This was by far the most painful and difficult part of the negotiating process," she added.
Albright, speaking at a news conference on her return from southeastern Europe and a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also said the Clinton administration was unlikely to link support for International Monetary Fund loans to Russia with the war Moscow is waging in Chechnya.
Last week, leading Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush suggested he would make that link if elected. "When the Russian government attacks civilians--killing women and children, leaving orphans and refugees--it can no longer expect aid from international lending institutions," Bush said.
Without mentioning Bush by name, Albright said: "I think it is very important to keep things separated here. We believe it is very important for there to be economic stability in Russia. That is in our national interest."
CAPTION: Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said the administration "remains deeply dissatisfied" with restrictions on aid to family planning groups.