IN a rerun of last year, an event of enormous global significance
will have a profound impact on Capitol Hill debate when Congress
reopens for business this week.
Last year, it was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. This year, it's the
fall of Soviet communism and that country's transformation.
Suddenly, an agenda packed with issues such as banking, crime,
highways, civil rights, and abortion has been topped off with a
matter already embroiled in debate: how much aid to send the former
Soviet Union and where to get the money.
Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Armed
Services Committee, wants to take $1 billion out of the Pentagon's
$291 billion budget for humanitarian aid. House majority leader
Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri proposes a $3 billion long-term
program to aid economic restructuring.
A more-cautious Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, chairman of
the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, suggests $15
million to $20 million for the Soviet republics in the next
But whatever the dollar amount, a consensus is emerging that the
United States has a moral obligation to help prevent possible
starvation in a country that has at last cast off its communist
shackles, the decades-long goal of US foreign policy.
Some Democrats see the inevitability of a US aid package for the
Soviets as a boon to US domestic problems they have had a hard time
funding, such as extending jobless benefits.
President Bush signed legislation last month to prolong benefits,
but refused to carry it out, saying it would hurt economic recovery.
With unemployment holding at 6.8 percent in August, the Democrats
have been emboldened to press their case.
"There's no way Bush can do Soviet aid and not do unemployment,"
says an aide to a senior House Democrat. "The biggest beneficiaries
of the (Soviet) coup will be America's long-term unemployed."
The Soviet aid question could lead to more funding for anti-crime
legislation and education, adds the aide. "The coup and countercoup
will color everything we do this fall," he says.
The budget accord
Some congressmen have expressed concern that aid to the Soviets
could bust the budget agreement reached last October between
Congress and the White House.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, a leading member of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, warns that with the budget deficit
nearing $300 billion, Congress must preserve the budget deal, which
imposes caps on spending for defense, foreign, and domestic
But other senators, such as John Danforth (R) of Missouri and
Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey, argue that the budget agreement is
already out of date and needs revising.
The demise of Soviet communism has decreased the Soviet threat,
they contend, and thus the US must now rethink defense spending. …