Senate panel approves authorization for embassy security

By Greta Wodele

March 4, 2005

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday approved a two-year, $4.5 billion authorization bill for the State Department's diplomatic programs, keeping intact one of President Bush's key foreign aid initiatives.

The Foreign Affairs Authorization Act for fiscal 2006-07 was approved 18-0. It would provide $1.5 billion for embassy security, construction and maintenance, including $689 million for security upgrades; $681 million for the United States Agency for International Development; $345 million for the Peace Corps, and $133 million to overhaul the State Department's information technology infrastructure.

Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., offered an amendment that would have cut funding to the Millennium Challenge Account -- a program that aims to reduce poverty through economic growth -- by $425 million. The administration has requested $3 billion for the program in the fiscal 2006 budget proposal.

Bush introduced the Millennium Challenge Corporation in 2003. Congress approved $1 billion in FY04 and an additional $1.5 billion in FY05 for the program. Sarbanes' amendment failed 9-9.

Sarbanes argued the department has not spent most of the $2.5 billion and maintained Congress could afford to authorize $425 million less than the president's request in order to increase funding for previously established developmental programs such as initiatives that provide immunizations and fight infectious diseases.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., opposed the amendment, saying the $3 billion price tag was "absolutely essential" to sending a signal to countries that the United States is serious about the Millennium program.

Foreign Relations ranking member Joseph Biden, D-Del., said if the administration felt strongly about the program it should have proposed the $5 billion Bush vowed to seek for next year. "Don't play with us," said Biden. "Come forward with the $5 billion."

The committee also approved by unanimous consent a manager's amendment that included numerous provisions from members, including funding to combat the avian flu. Sen. Barak Obama, D-Ill., who sponsored the provision, said the "bird flu" might develop into a global pandemic.

Obama said his amendment is a "small first step on what is going to be a big issue." The amendment would provide $25 million in immediate assistance, a quarter of the funding called for by the World Health Organization.

The committee also approved by unanimous consent an amendment offered by Lugar to combat the global proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles and other conventional weapons. The program is modeled after the international buy-back program created by Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.

By Greta Wodele

March 4, 2005