On February 1, 1999, in his fiscal year (FY) 2000
budget proposal, President Bill Clinton submitted a supplemental
appropriations request for FY 1999. He seeks $1.9 billion in
foreign aid in support of the October 1998 Israeli-Palestinian
agreement signed at Wye River, Maryland, as well as funds for
several small requests, such as roughly $1 million to hire
additional security officers for the Supreme Court. Some of this
money would be taken from the FY 2000 and FY 2001 budgets.
request represents a partial victory for Congress. Responding to
news reports last year that the Clinton Administration would seek a
$2.5 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill, former
chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Representative Bob
Livingston (R-LA) and current chair Representative Bill Young
(R-FL) wrote the President to object to the proposed spending.
Their December 10, 1998, letter notes that the vast majority of the
request was not "emergency" in nature and therefore should not be
sought in an emergency supplemental appropriation. Among these
non-emergency expenditures were $1.9 billion in support of the Wye
agreement and $250 million in technical assistance and credit for
countries engaged in International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs. In
fact, except for $233 million in relief to Central American
countries devastated by Hurricanes Mitch and Georges, there was
little urgency associated with the request.
Yielding to pressure from Congress, the
Clinton Administration altered its request, deleting some
objectionable material, like the funding for the IMF. But it also
removed the only truly emergency expenditure--disaster aid for
hurricane victims. Although some lawmakers may favor providing aid
to Israel and hiring additional security guards for the Supreme
Court, Congress should inform the President that his request for
"emergency" funds is inappropriate. The reasons:
Nothing in the supplemental request is
truly "emergency" in nature.
The Administration does not make the case that additional guards
at the Supreme Court are an urgent need that cannot wait eight
months for the new budget cycle. Moreover, a request for aid to
support the Wye agreement has been anticipated for a long time;
there are no breakthroughs in the peace process that demand urgent
funding. In fact, Israel has suspended its withdrawal from the West
Bank, charging the Palestinians with violations of Wye. As the
Administration tries to revive the agreement, most likely a lengthy
process, Wye-related aid should be considered through the regular
budget process for FY 2000.
The request would increase foreign aid
dramatically over the limits established in the FY 1999
The $900 million in Wye-related aid that would be approved for FY
1999 (an additional $500 million would follow in both the FY 2000
and FY 2001 budgets to reach the $1.9 billion total) is an 8
percent increase over the $11.4 billion in outlays for
international assistance in FY 1998. It represents an increase of
28 percent in total assistance to Israel, Jordan, and the
Palestinian Authority for that year. By circumventing the normal
budget procedures, the Clinton Administration is trying to wangle a
backdoor increase in U.S. foreign aid after Congress rejected the
President's proposed $663 million increase in U.S. bilateral
foreign aid in the FY 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. If the
Administration wants to increase the foreign aid budget, it should
follow the regular budget process.
An already under-funded defense
budget should not be cut.
In their letter, Representatives Livingston and Young complain
that the President's original supplemental request violated the
budget compromise laboriously reached last October because it
offered no cuts to offset proposed spending. Apparently in response
to this criticism, the Clinton Administration proposes two spending
rescissions in the supplemental request: $652 million from the
Operations and Maintenance budget of the Department of Defense and
$230 million in Research and Development for a Ballistic Missile
Defense. Although not technically an offset for the Wye funding,
the cuts would have that effect by nearly matching the $900 million
in aid expenditures for Wye in FY 1999. This is unacceptable. The
Department of Defense has been dangerously underfunded for over a
decade, and its budget should not be pilfered to pay for foreign
aid. Any cuts to offset proposed new foreign aid spending should
come from the international assistance budget, which includes
economic and military assistance.
Another problem with the supplemental bill
is that most spending would go to fulfill promises made by
President Clinton without consultation with Congress, even though
the legislature has the constitutional responsibility to approve
all spending. In 1995, Representative Livingston, as chairman of
the House Appropriations Committee, warned President Clinton that
Congress was under no obligation to fulfill financial pledges made
without congressional consultation. The Clinton Administration is
betting that congressional resistance will be overcome by the fact
that the budget cap on spending does not apply to emergency
supplemental appropriations and that lawmakers will yield to the
temptation to attach their own pork-barrel spending to the request.
Congress should not take the Administration's bait.
Since 1994, Congress has overseen a
gradual cutback in the budget for the U.S. foreign aid program,
which is notorious for its waste, fraud, and ineffectiveness. It is
clear that the Clinton Administration is pressuring Congress to
regain some of that lost ground. Instead of acceding to President
Clinton's calls for more spending, and in the process reneging on
last year's budget agreement, Congress should demand that the
Administration comply with normal budget procedures in seeking
funding that is not truly emergency in nature.
Bryan T. Johnson is a former Policy
Analyst for International Economic Affairs and Brett D.
Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory
Affairs in The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International
Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.