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$15.2 billion foreign aid bill cruises through the House

Attempts to divert drug-fighting dollars to AIDS battle fail

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WASHINGTON — The House passed a $15.2 billion foreign aid bill after a debate that centered on the administration's program to eradicate drugs and bring political stability in Colombia and its neighbors.

The House rejected several amendments offered by lawmakers who questioned the effectiveness of the Andean anti-drug initiative and contended that the $676 million allotted for the initiative would be better spent fighting the worldwide epidemic of AIDS and other health problems.

The foreign aid bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 passed 381-46. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The legislation contains $2.7 billion in military and economic assistance for Israel and $2 billion for Egypt. It provides $474 million for AIDS programs, $425 million for reproductive health assistance, $768 million for the states of the former Soviet Union and $600 million for Southeast Asia and the Balkans.

The House defeated, by 240-188, an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that would have shifted $60 million from the Andes initiative and military assistance programs to an international AIDS fund.

Up to 100 million people could be infected worldwide in the next four years if action is not taken, said Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. "We cannot allow the enormity of the problem to numb us or convince us that this pandemic is beyond our ability to fight it," Gephardt said.

"Ending the HIV-AIDS crisis is both a national security and moral priority for the United States," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

Opponents argued that the fight against drugs also is too important to ignore. "The Andean region deserves every consideration we can give it, because we have created the problem that exists there," said Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C.

The House defeated by 249-179 an amendment by Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., that would have cut military aid to Colombia by $100 million, with half that money going into tuberculosis programs and the other half into child survival programs.

The administration said the Andes initiative budget, already $55 million below what it requested, reflects a necessary balance between social and economic development in the region and drug eradication and interdiction and law enforcement programs.

The House approved by voice vote an amendment by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to maintain a combined limit of 800 U.S. military and civilian contract workers in Colombia. Conyers said that was necessary to avoid Vietnam War-like "mission creep."

Another amendment accepted by voice vote holds up $65 million in aid to Peru until the administration certifies that Andean country has acted to prevent recurrence of the incident last April when a Peruvian Air Force plane opened fire on a plane mistakenly believed to be carrying drugs. An American missionary and her child were killed. The amendment's sponsor was Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.

The bill includes $100 million to help El Salvador recover from devastating earthquakes at the beginning of the year, but the House turned down an attempt by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to add $250 million to that total.

The foreign aid bill is H.R. 2506 On the Net: House Appropriations Committee: www.house.gov/appropriations