House Rebuffs Attempt to Cut Andean Counterdrug Aid
Godfrey, John, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: John Godfrey
The House yesterday rejected efforts to cut funding for President Bush's $676 million South American anti-drug effort.
Lawmakers from both parties have become nervous about the U.S. military's involvement in Colombia and other Andean nations and increasing reports of civil rights violations by those nations.
But pressure from the White House and House Republican leaders prevailed, leaving opponents of the anti-drug mission short.
"Big victory," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, after the House rejected 240-88 an amendment that would have diverted $60 million from the Andean Counterdrug Initiative and from foreign military assistance intended to supplement that effort.
The money would have instead gone to increase funding to international child survival and health programs.
Later yesterday, the House passed on a 381-46 vote the $15.2 billion foreign aid spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. That total is already $55 million lower than the president's budget request.
The speaker, who by tradition rarely votes, voted against the Colombia amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat.
"The speaker feels very strongly that we need to continue the fight against drug lords [in South America]," Mr. Feehery said. "Drugs kill 10,000 kids every year. We have to do something about it."
Opponents of the program attacked it on a number of fronts. They argued that the initiative could become a military entanglement reminiscent of Vietnam; that there have been increased civil rights violations by government-supported right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia; that anti-drug efforts should focus more on domestic drug treatment; and that international health aid, particularly to combat AIDS, is more important.
Proponents said the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, created by President Clinton in 2000 as Plan Colombia, has not yet had time to reach fruition; that left-wing paramilitary groups are guilty of far worse atrocities than their right-wing counterparts; and that the legislation already contains sufficient funding for international health care initiatives.
While some had worried that centrist Republicans might hand the president a defeat on the issue, only 15 Republican lawmakers voted for the Lee amendment yesterday.
Democrats, on the other hand, saw 35 defections, mostly from Texas, Connecticut, Florida and Arkansas.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, voted against the Lee amendment, arguing that it was too inexact. …