Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jun 2000
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 2000 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
Contact:  1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J., 07102-1200
Author: Tom Raum, Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- House and Senate leaders broke a spending impasse yesterday, 
agreeing to free $12 billion in long-delayed funds to help Colombia's war 
on drugs, pay for U.S. troops in Kosovo and provide natural disaster relief.

The agreement came as the Senate voted 95-4 to endorse a $13.4 billion 
foreign aid bill.

The legislation contained just under $1 billion in anti-narcotics 
assistance to Colombia. However, under the new agreement that amount will 
now be increased to $1.3 billion.

That would bring it closer to a $1.7 billion Colombia package approved by 
the House in March.

Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), a prime sponsor of the Colombia proposal, 
called the final vote "a major victory toward stopping the spread of 
illegal narcotics into the United States."

But it was rising pressure from the Pentagon, as much as anything, that 
appears to have contributed to the breakthrough.

The Pentagon, which has been drawing down other accounts to pay for keeping 
its troops in Kosovo, has said it will have to start curtailing activities 
early next month unless it receives $1.5 billion the bill contains for 
Kosovo. Republicans do not want such cutbacks blamed on them, particularly 
in an election year.

House and Senate leaders planned to take the entire $12 billion spending 
package -- some of it to reimburse victims of last September's Hurricane 
Floyd -- and attach it to a popular military construction spending bill.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) hopes the spending package can be 
approved in the House next week, said Hastert spokesman John Feehery.

John Czwartacki, a spokesman for Lott, said a Senate final vote was also 
possible next week.

The catchall spending bill would also provide money to help to rebuild 
fire-ravaged Los Alamos, N.M., including parts of the national nuclear 
laboratory there.

Congressional sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Los 
Alamos money would be about $500 million -- but could go higher.

The Senate's endorsement of President Clinton's Colombia package proved the 
catalyst that helped speed an overall agreement.

The administration has been pressing Congress to finish work on the 
Colombian aid package for months.

It was originally part of $5.2 billion that Clinton requested in January 
that also included money for U.S. troops in Kosovo and for victims of 
Hurricane Floyd.

The House approved a $13 billion version on March 30, adding even more 
money for the Pentagon and domestic natural disasters and other projects.

But in the Senate, the bill was split into three pieces attached to other 
spending bills, with the Colombia money going onto the foreign aid one.

Yesterday's $12 billion agreement puts the pieces back together again, with 
a slightly lower price tag.

Earlier yesterday, Clinton said he was pleased that the Colombia package is 
now advancing in Congress after languishing for months. "I'm grateful for 
it," he said.

Speaking to reporters before departing on a West Coast trip, the President 
praised the Senate for rejecting efforts to trim the funds and voting 
Wednesday in favor the spending. He called for quick passage of the plan, 
saying it is needed to help Colombia's government maintain social order.

"They're in the fight of their lives for their very way of life, with the 
combined pressure of a guerrilla war that's been going on for decades and 
the rise of the narco-traffickers," Clinton said. "The quicker we can reach 
agreement and show that the United States is committed to a democracy and 
to fighting the drug wars in Colombia . . . the better off we're going to be."

The bulk of the Colombia money would go toward training special counter 
narcotics battalions in the Colombian military and for dozens of 
American-made helicopters.

Colombia is by far the world's largest exporter of cocaine.

The overall foreign aid measure is $1.7 billion less than Clinton had 
requested, drawing strong complaints -- but no veto threats -- from the 
administration. The Senate cut Clinton's request for $262 million for the 
world's poorest countries to just $75 million.

Before approving the overall foreign aid bill, the Senate by voice vote 
adopted an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), increasing by $30 
million, to $255 million, funds for international efforts to fight AIDS; 
and adding $10 million, to $66 million, for combating tuberculosis.

It also adopted an amendment by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), for $35 
million in U.S. aid for flood-ravaged Mozambique, up from $25 million in 
the original bill.

Other key components of the foreign aid bill:

Israel, at $2.8 billion, remains the largest single recipient of U.S. aid. 
The Senate did not attach conditions, despite complaints about Israel's 
proposed sale of a $250 million spy plane to China. Egypt is second with $2 

Aid to Russia would be conditioned on Moscow's cooperation with 
international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in Chechnya and to 
investigate human rights abuses there.

Among those criticizing the Colombia money were Democrats who said they 
would rather it be spent domestically to prevent drug use and Republicans 
reluctant to get involved in a South American civil war.

"Let's not get into another new armed conflict," said Sen. Slade Gorton, 

His amendment to slash all but $200 million of the funds was rejected 
79-19. By a similar margin, the Senate also rejected an attempt by Sen. 
Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) to divert $225 million to home-based drug abuse 

On the final vote, the four voting "no" were Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.); 
Bob Smith (R-N.H.); Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.); and Wellstone. Not voting was 
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).
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