- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The House of Representatives has cut significantly President Bush’s funding request for a centerpiece international aid program, shifting some of the money to other purposes including the fight against diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

Dealing a blow to President Bush a week before the Group of Eight economic summit in Scotland, the House voted to slash money from the assistance program considered a cornerstone of his campaign to spread democracy around the world.

Money for the Millennium Challenge Account is included in the $20.3 billion foreign-aid bill that the House approved on a 393-32 vote Tuesday.

Overall, the bill for next year is roughly 11 percent less than the president proposed, but nearly 4 percent more than this year’s funding. The Senate has yet to write its version of the bill, which provides health, education, counternarcotics and military assistance to poor nations.

House lawmakers chose to pad several of the president’s other proposals with the $1.25 billion they cut from his request for the Millennium Challenge Account, a program that gives countries extra money if they pursue political, economic and human rights reforms.

Among the winners are a fund to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. It’s slated to get $2.7 billion, about a half-billion dollars more than this year and $131 million more than the president’s request.

Mr. Bush had asked for $3 billion for the third year of the Millennium Challenge Account, double the current funding level. The House bill would provide only $1.75 billion.

Congress has provided $2.5 billion for the program over the past two years — $1.3 billion less than Mr. Bush requested. The corporation overseeing the program has spent only about $4 million of that, says the Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for lawmakers.

House lawmakers emphasized they were providing record funding for the program — roughly $262 million more than Congress provided for the current year — and noted that the corporation has not spent most of the money it already has.

The corporation projects using up all of its money by early next year.

The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations panel, Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, said he made the program “a priority” despite budget constraints.

His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, criticized the administration for asking for a large increase in the program “on the backs of our core development accounts.”

The president proposed the program in March 2002 as a way to encourage global development by helping countries enact democratic principles. But it has been slow to get off the ground.

Under the program, countries agree to complete certain tasks to get the money. The corporation has approved agreements with only four countries — Madagascar, Honduras, Cape Verde and Nicaragua. That’s fewer than anticipated.

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