Meet the Other 535 Secretaries of State Spending Bill Shows How Lawmakers Keep an Eye on White House Foreign Forays Series: Long Arm of the Lawmakers, How Congress Micromanages, Second of a Two-Part Series. the First Part Ran on December 30, 1996

By Lawrence J. Goodrich, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 2, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Meet the Other 535 Secretaries of State Spending Bill Shows How Lawmakers Keep an Eye on White House Foreign Forays Series: Long Arm of the Lawmakers, How Congress Micromanages, Second of a Two-Part Series. the First Part Ran on December 30, 1996


Lawrence J. Goodrich, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A recurring joke around the State Department is that the United States has 536 secretaries of state: one at its Foggy Bottom headquarters and 535 on Capitol Hill.

The joke's not so far off the mark. Right now, Congress is sparring with the White House over US payment of its back United Nations dues, for one thing. Over the past 12 months, legislators have expressed differences with the administration over such crucial policies as aid to Russia and Ukraine, the location of Israel's capital, North Korea, and human rights in Burma and Haiti.

Some might call this micromanagement. Others might judge it legitimate congressional oversight of one of the executive branch's most important powers: the ability to shape foreign relations. Congress and the executive branch have often sparred over foreign affairs. Indeed, the postwar bipartisan consensus that reigned until the Vietnam War tore it apart was an exception, not the rule. Early in the republic, Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans favored France, while John Adams's Federalists tilted toward Britain. After World War I, a Republican Congress embarrassed Democratic President Woodrow Wilson by refusing to enter the Wilson-inspired League of Nations. More recently, Congress forced the Reagan and Bush administrations to take a tougher stand against the apartheid regime then ruling South Africa. Such disagreements between Capitol Hill and the White House reflect deep concerns among the American public, which often sees US foreign policy differently than does the governing elite. THE big omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress last fall is a good place to see legislators at work in the field of foreign policy. It was a crucial piece of legislation that funded much of the government for fiscal year 1997. President Clinton was thus unlikely to veto the bill just because he disagreed with an overseas provision or two. The administration won some significant victories with passage of the bill. For example, a Senate bill sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina would have abolished the United States Information Agency (USIA), the Arms Control and Development Agency (ACDA), and the Agency for International Development (AID). Instead, all three agencies survived. ACDA and USIA got higher appropriations from House-Senate conferees than either house had approved. AID, on the other hand, took a $30 million cut from the fiscal 1996 budget, which was a 23 percent reduction from 1995. Congress and the White House disagree mightily over payment of the US dues to the UN, which are $1.8 billion in arrears. The president and the State Department want the bill paid, saying failure to do so undermines US policy worldwide. Congress refuses to pay until the UN corrects what it sees as wasteful spending and personnel practices.

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Meet the Other 535 Secretaries of State Spending Bill Shows How Lawmakers Keep an Eye on White House Foreign Forays Series: Long Arm of the Lawmakers, How Congress Micromanages, Second of a Two-Part Series. the First Part Ran on December 30, 1996
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