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
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. …