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Coalition for Foreign Aid Lobbies Congress to Make a ‘difference’

For decades U.S. foreign aid was a legislative pariah with many more opponents than supporters.

Many members of Congress only heard calls for support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.

A lot has changed in the late 1990s.

This week an unprecedented coalition of American businesses, humanitarian groups and ethnic organizations banded together to support increased foreign aid spending in the wake of congressional plans for sharp cuts in the foreign affairs budget.

Groups as diverse as AIPAC, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corporation, CARE and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce went to Capitol Hill this week to lobby members of Congress to increase the foreign affairs budget, which includes foreign aid, dues to international organizations and funding for the State Department.

The coalition, calling itself the Campaign to Preserve U.S. Global Leadership, has grown from a few dozen groups five years ago to more than 250 business and organizations.

The congressional budget “is not a demonstration of leadership,” first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a rally Tuesday sponsored by the coalition.

“We have to recognize that development assistance is at its lowest level since World War II,” she said, adding that “the call on our aid and assistance is greater.”

It is of “critical importance,” Clinton said, that the United States government have “the resources we need, not only in Kosovo but in other troubled regions of the world, to maintain America’s leadership.”

A $1.74 trillion House budget resolution approved last month would cut foreign affairs spending by more than $2 billion, to slightly more than $16 billion, from last year. A Senate version of the bill — also passed last month — also contains substantial, but not as deep, cuts.

The House and Senate budgets, now subject to negotiation among representatives from each chamber, are the first step in setting federal spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Much like President Clinton’s budget offered earlier this year, the proposals passed by Congress are the opening gambit in what is certain to be an arduous negotiating process.

The House budget resolution calls for $16.4 billion in total foreign affairs spending, $2.3 billion less than was allocated to the State Department for 1999. Clinton’s budget calls for $20.9 billion for foreign affairs.

How much would go to foreign aid and how much to foreign operations, such as embassies and personnel, is determined later on in the budgeting process.

Sporting “One Cent Can Make a World of Difference” pins, coalition members went to Capitol Hill to ask members of Congress to spend 1 percent of the federal budget on foreign affairs.

Echoing the message of many of his colleagues, AIPAC President Lonny Kaplan said, “We must bring the message to members of Congress and their staffs that spending 1 percent of our budget on foreign affairs is not too great a burden for the greatest country in the world.”

Kaplan added, “Our country’s future depends on the actions we take today.”

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