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House Panel Keeps Israel Aid Intact but Cuts May Still Be Made on Floor

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $13.9 billion foreign assistance bill for fiscal year 1993 reflecting broad cuts but leaving aid to Israel and to Egypt intact at current levels.

The committee on Thursday earmarked the Bush administration’s full request for $3 billion in military and economic aid to Israel and $2.1 billion for Egypt, while cutting $1.2 billion from the rest of the White House’s foreign aid budget.

But Israel advocates are increasingly nervous that the $3 billion will be jeopardized by a political climate increasingly hostile to the idea of sending U.S. dollars abroad in the midst of a domestic economic crisis.

Their concern was fueled by an announcement last week by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, that he would offer an amendment when the bill reaches the floor to cut an additional $400 million across the board and without exceptions. The full House is expected to vote on the bill next week.

Sources say the $90 million cut in aid to Israel that would result is not as troubling in itself as the precedent it would set. It would be the first time that Israel would lose its politically privileged status and be put on the chopping block along with every other country.

Obey was unavailable for comment Thursday but his spokesman said he was still considering the measure.

Rep. Larry Smith (D-Fla.), a committee member, said he believed Obey was trying to preempt other amendments that would propose more drastic cuts. But Smith said he was opposed to the strategy, calling the amendment, “the wrong thing to do.”

Smith said the committee’s bill, already at $1.2 billion below the president’s request and at “the lowest-ever percentage” of the Gross National Product, “already serves the people well.”

WARNINGS HAVE BEEN SOUNDED ABOUT FOREIGN AID

Smith said if there are further cuts, they should be limited to 1 percent. He said they also should exempt aid to Israel and Egypt and other programs, such as development assistance and aid to Africa, which already had been cut to the bone.

Obey and his Senate counterpart, Foreign Operations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), have been sounding warnings in recent months that foreign aid will undergo harsher scrutiny than ever before.

“In the post Cold War period, we will have to reevaluate all of foreign aid,” said Leahy at a subcommittee hearing earlier this month to a panel of witnesses on the Middle East.

“This should not be taken as a signal by any country, but Americans need to know there’s a legitimate reason” for these programs, he said. “Otherwise, there won’t be a constituency for things really vital to our national security.”

Thomas Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who testified, told Leahy, “We are aware of antiforeign aid feeling in the body politic (but) foreign aid is an opportunity to advance our interests.

“It behooves people like you to stand up and argue the case,” Dine said.

The foreign aid bill drew criticism from Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, who also testified at Leahy’s hearing against indirect U.S. subsidies of settlements in Israel’s occupied territories.

Segal on Thursday criticized the Israel aid portion of the bill, calling it “business as usual” because it gives the president no leverage with Israel and reflects no effort to disburse aid in a way that would curb the growth of settlements.

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