We can expect a lively debate, so keep an eye on C-SPAN or its website on Tuesday afternoon. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) and Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) plan to introduce an amendment that would cut $100 million from the $734.5 million â€œAndean Counterdrug Initiativeâ€ (ACI) account, which pays for both military and economic aid to Colombia and seven of its neighbors. The amendmentâ€™s proponents will make clear that they intend the $100 million cut to come from the $332 million of the ACI that is expected to go to military and police aid for Colombia.
Why are the amendmentâ€™s backers using such a blunt instrument? They have been forced into it by the House of Representativesâ€™ very restrictive rules of debate. When considering an appropriations bill, amendments are only permitted to affect amounts of money, such as cuts or transfers to other accounts. An amendment saying, for instance, â€œno funds in this bill may go to the Colombian security forcesâ€ would be ruled out of order for committing the offense of â€œlegislating on an appropriations bill.â€
This rule is designed to speed debate in a chamber with 435 members. But it does leave members of the minority party with little opportunity for input into what goes in the bill. First, Democrats can try to convince the Republican subcommittee chairmen, who write the first drafts of all appropriations bills, to include their â€œasksâ€ in this first draft (or â€œmarkupâ€).
If the chairman says no â€“ as often happens â€“ the Democratsâ€™ second step is to try to get enough committee Republicans to defy their chairmen and vote with them, thus forming a majority in favor of their amendments. Rep. Sam Farr (D-California) tried to do that in the Appropriations Committeeâ€™s June 21 hearing on the foreign aid bill, introducing an amendment that would have guaranteed that a portion of funds for Colombia ($20 million more than in 2005) be economic aid. After a debate, when it became clear that he didnâ€™t have the votes due to apparently unanimous opposition from the committee Republicans, Farr withdrew his amendment before it came to a vote.
If changes in committee prove impossible, Democrats are left with the final choice of introducing amendments when the bill goes to the full House of Representatives. When this happens, their amendments must comply with the very restrictive debate rule â€“ which forces them to use very blunt instruments like across-the-board aid cuts.
So does the McGovern-McCollum-Moore amendment have a chance? Yes, but a slim one. Because it cuts aid, effectively shrinking the entire foreign aid budget by $100 million, some Democrats will be unwilling to support it, even though they may dislike the Colombia policy. Oddly, though, a cut may bring some support from rightwingers who hate foreign aid. Remarkably, the National Taxpayersâ€™ Union, which disdains government spending in general, has come out strongly in favor of the M-M-M amendment and has announced that they will even include it on the list of votes they consider when they issue their annual ratings of Congress. (This has to be the only vote this year that will be scored, on the same side, by both the NTU and the United Steelworkers of America.)
Despite this incentive, it may be difficult to peel off more than a few Republican votes for the amendment. House Republicans are well aware that a hard-line drug policy is close to the heart of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), who traveled regularly to Colombia to oversee police anti-drug programs during the 1990s, when he was a regular member of Congress. Hastert took the unusual step of testifying in favor of the current policy [PDF format] in a hearing of the House International Relations Committee last month, and wrote an op-ed favoring the policy in Colombiaâ€™s El Tiempo newspaper this month.
Republican congresspeople face a difficult dilemma: follow the NTUâ€™s advice and cast a vote for small government and lower deficits, or follow Speaker Hastertâ€™s lead and avoid defying a party leadership that has proven willing to exact retribution (passing members over for committee chairmanships, appropriating less for projects in their districts) in order to enforce discipline.
Meanwhile, we donâ€™t know yet if other Colombia-related amendments are in the offing. There is at least some chance that key Republicans may be hatching an attempt to add $150 million more for fumigation in Colombia, in order to satisfy a request President Uribe has conveyed to them. Four Republican committee and subcommittee chairmen had sent a letter in May making that request to the Republican appropriators, but they were ultimately turned down in committee. To give Colombia this additional money, after all, would mean cutting $150 million from elsewhere in the world.
For more about what is in the foreign aid bill so far, read the detailed overview on CIPâ€™s website.
Tomorrow will be an extremely busy day, as the Senateâ€™s version of the foreign aid bill will simultaneously be undergoing â€œmarkupâ€ (agreement on a draft) in subcommittee. The bill will go to the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, then be debated in the full Senate sometime in July. The Senateâ€™s draft law is usually marginally better on Colombia than the Houseâ€™s version, chiefly because Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, cares strongly about the issue and is able to add conditions, reporting requirements, and language requiring that a minimum of aid be non-military.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Foreign Relations authorization bills (H.R. 2601 and S. 600), which make changes to the permanent law governing several foreign aid programs. The bills, which often fail to come to a vote before the legislative year ends, have both been approved by their committees already, and are awaiting debate in the full House and Senate.
Both bills have something to say about U.S. support for the demobilization of Colombian paramilitary groups. The House International Relations Committee, whose version of the bill is still not publicly available, includes text added by an amendment from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), which restricts aid for the paramilitary process until the Secretary of State assures that (1) aid is only going to those who have renounced membership in the AUC; (2) the Colombian government is â€œcooperatingâ€ in the extradition of paramilitaries wanted for drug-trafficking, and (3) the â€œframework lawâ€ governing the demobilizations is able to dismantle the groups while â€œbalancing both the need for reconciliation as well as the need for justice.â€ This provision was approved in committee with the sole dissent of its senior Democrat, Tom Lantos (D-California), who argued that these provisions are so vaguely worded that they create a loophole through which U.S. aid can go to a deeply flawed process.
The Senate version of the law includes little about the talks, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeâ€™s non-binding narrative report, which accompanies the bill, has some strong words about possible U.S. support for the paramilitary process.
If the United States is to fund a significant share of the demobilization program, it should meet certain minimal standards. The committee believes it imperative that any demobilization program bring about the full dismantlement of the underlying structure, illegal sources of financing, and economic power of the AUC, which have been designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). In this regard, the committee believes it is crucial that each paramilitary seeking sentence reductions or other benefits from demobilization be required to forfeit illegally acquired assets, confess past crimes, and fully disclose any knowledge of the operative structure, financing sources, and the criminal activities of the FTO and its individual members. Each demobilized AUC member’s benefits should be fully revocable if judicial authorities find that he has failed to fulfill these requirements.
The committee believes it is critical that the groups of AUC leaders who receive sentence reductions or other benefits fully demobilize and comply with the cease-fire. The committee also believes that all perpetrators of atrocities must serve a minimum number of years in prison for their crimes. The committee urges the Government of Colombia to put in place effective mechanisms to monitor demobilized individuals to prevent them from continuing to engage in organized criminal activity. Finally, the committee urges the Government of Colombia to devise a legal framework that can be equally applicable to other FTOs in Colombia, such as the FARC.
Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), a key Republican critic of the paramilitary process in its current form, gets much credit for this tough language.
The 2006 foreign aid bill, for its part, includes little money that could go to support the paramilitary process, and no money for this purpose was in the Bush administrationâ€™s aid request. If the Bush administration decides at some point that it wants to make a big push to fund the paramilitary process, it will have to go back to Congress and make the request on another piece of legislation.