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Skeptical Congress Accelerates Foreign-Aid Cuts

Charging waste and poor returns, GOP lawmakers sharply curtail a pillar of postwar foreign policy

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For a Congress aiming at budget reductions, foreign aid was an obvious target. It was thus no surprise when Congress agreed recently to big cuts in foreign aid, accelerating a decade-long trend.

What has surprised many diplomatic observers is the extent to which the 104th Congress, convinced that foreign aid has been a waste of taxpayers' money, has turned its back on one of the guiding premises of postwar American foreign policy.

Since the 1950s, aid to alleviate poverty and hunger has been viewed as a means of enhancing economic growth and political stability in nations important to US interests.

Billions of dollars later, many lawmakers are not convinced that the investment has paid off.

''What we're seeing is not just a continuation of a downward trend in the amount of development assistance but a change in attitude on the part of Congress,'' says Peter Shiras, director of government relations at InterAction, a Washington-based consortium of 160 US nonprofit humanitarian organizations. ''It no longer recognizes the positive contribution foreign aid makes abroad and how it serves US national interests.''

The foreign-aid bill, approved by the House Oct. 31 and the Senate on Nov. 1, appropriates $12.1 billion for the current fiscal year, some $2.7 billion less than the amount President Clinton requested.

Final passage of the legislation has been held up by a dispute over an amendment to bar US funds to organizations abroad that perform abortions.

If the issue is not resolved, Congress is expected to pass a long-term continuing resolution at the $12.1 billion level approved in a House-Senate conference committee.

Middle East winners

The big winners, this year as before, are Israel and Egypt, which receive $3 billion and $2 billion respectively - more than 40 percent of the US foreign-aid budget as a continuing reward for signing the 1977 Camp David peace treaty.

The biggest losers are less developed countries.

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