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Don't hold the IMF bill hostage

Now that world economic recovery is under way, it may seem somewhat churlish to remind Washington of international debt problems. Yet, when the cumulative debt of developing nations is now over $600 billion, it is prudent to ensure that lending institutions are able to meet the credit needs of financially strapped nations - as well as prevent any possible default that could precipitate a global banking crisis and thus endanger recovery.

It is precisely for such reasons that it is vital that Washington get its act together on new US financial support for the International Monetary Fund. Both the Senate and House have approved separate authorization bills that would enlarge the US contribution to the IMF by $8.4 billion. What is worrisome is that the issue is now bogged down in unnecessary and damaging political squabbling. Indeed, there is increasing concern that the stepped up US contribution - which is backed by the Reagan administration - could be threatened by the political infighting. One early test of the mood of Congress will come later this week, when a House appropriations subcommittee takes up the question of IMF funding.

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The increase in the US contribution, as a majority of lawmakers have recognized, makes good sense.

During the past year alone, the IMF has signed some $16 billion worth of loan agreements with 35 debtor nations. That action parallels the efforts of private commercial banks, which have renegotiated repayment terms for some $90 billion of debt by 15 nations. In other words, both the international community and private lenders have taken firm steps to ease the world debt crisis.

The other side of the coin, however, is that new lending to developing nations by private banks has slowed considerably. In 1982, commercial banks reduced their world lending for the first time in five years. That means that it will be up to international agencies, such as the IMF, to provide the new financing that will be needed by debtor nations.

Given the importance of the IMF legislation, is it really necessary to chain the issue to peripheral political issues? Lawmakers of both parties are now unwisely doing just that. Democrats, for example, who provided the margin for victory in the House (where the IMF bill passed by six votes), are now linking final enactment of the measure to a $16 billion housing bill. The administration argues that the housing bill is too costly. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee has sent out news releases accusing some Democratic backers of the IMF measure of aiding communist nations. The Democrats had voted against an amendment to the IMF bill - subsequently adopted - that would require the US representative to the IMF to vote against loans to South Africa or any ''Communist dictatorship.''

The IMF package is absolutely essential. Lawmakers should end their political bickering and enact the legislation as quickly as possible.

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