- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday approved emergency aid to fight the drug war in Colombia, peacekeeping in Kosovo and for victims of natural disasters.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, praised the committee vote, saying the proposed $934 million appropriation would give the United States and Colombia "a fair opportunity to stop drugs from coming into" this country.

The aid money to Kosovo came after a provision that restricts future U.S. action in the Yugoslav province was approved.

A proposal by committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, for $7.2 billion in assistance grew to roughly $8 billion after the committee debated the plan for nearly four hours and approved several additions.

By a 23-3 vote, the committee also adopted a provision by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, that would require the next president to withdraw U.S. peacekeeping troops from Kosovo by July 2001 unless Congress extends their stay.

The House narrowly rejected a similar amendment in March.

The Senate panel's action came more than a month after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, blocked work on a larger version of the emergency aid package. Mr. Lott supports the smaller proposal.

The funds the committee approved are less than the $13 billion bill the House approved March 30 but more than the $5.2 billion President Clinton has requested.

Rather than a free-standing bill, the money was divided among three routine spending bills for military construction, foreign aid and agriculture for the coming fiscal year.

The full Senate will consider the first of the bills later this week, and differences with the House versions will be settled in a joint House-Senate conference committee.

By trimming the emergency funds and attaching them to must-pass spending bills, Mr. Stevens was addressing Mr. Lott's objections that a separate package would have been too expensive and time-consuming. Mr. Lott and other Republican leaders want Congress to adjourn as early as possible so lawmakers can return home and campaign for re-election.

Since stalling the earlier measure, Mr. Lott has come under pressure from administration officials and others who argue the money is needed urgently, especially aid to Colombia's embattled government for fighting drug traffickers who control large swaths of the country.

The new package contains $5.7 billion for U.S. peacekeeping in Kosovo, anti-drug efforts in Colombia and other Defense Department programs. Included is money for Pentagon fuel purchases and the military's financially ailing health-insurance plan.

Another $1.5 billion was for the aftermath of last fall's Hurricane Floyd, which battered parts of the East Coast, and other natural disasters.

Mr. Clinton requested $1.3 billion for Colombia, on top of $300 million already provided, while the House approved $1.7 billion. Mr. Clinton requested about $2.8 billion for Kosovo and other Pentagon needs, while the House approved $9 billion.

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