This week, work on the remaining ten FY2004 spending bills slowed to a halt as the supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan became the focus of Senate debate and House Appropriations Committee hearings.
Iraq and Afghanistan Emergency Supplemental
This week, the Senate began its consideration of the FY2004 emergency supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan (S. 1689). The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the bill on September 30.
S. 1689 would allocate an additional $87.004 billion in FY2004 for certain programs under the Department of Defense, Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. The total is approximately $36 million less than the President’s request.
Under the measure, $66.56 billion would be provided to prosecute the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and $21.444 billion would be provided to help secure the transition to democracy in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The committee report accompanying S. 1689 states that the committee “strongly supports programs and activities to promote freedom, democratic institutions, and the rule of law in Iraq and provides that not less than $100 million shall be available for democracy building activities in that country in support of the development and ratification of a constitution, national elections and women’s development programs.”
In addition, the committee “recognizes that conflict and decades of neglect devastated Iraq’s health infrastructure, resulting in a lack of medical equipment and supplies, and health professionals with expertise in pediatric medical specialties,” and “is concerned that children with critical health problems cannot obtain life-saving treatments in Iraq.” For these reasons, the committee supports “activities that can have an immediate impact in addressing the needs of these children, such as the Emergency Health Services for the Children of Iraq program sponsored jointly by Kurdish Human Rights Watch and Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital.”
During consideration of S. 1689, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) offered an amendment that would have paid for the supplemental bill by raising the tax rate to 38.2 percent for those with incomes more than $400,000 a year. A motion to table the amendment was agreed to, 57-42.
The Senate plans to finish consideration of the supplemental spending bill by October 17.
District of Columbia
On September 29, the Senate continued its debate, but again postponed all votes, on the FY2004 District of Columbia spending bill (H.R. 2765), which it had begun late last week (see The Source, 9/26/03).
The reason for the delay is controversy around a new provision in the spending bill that would allocate $13 million for private school vouchers, $13 million in new funds to public schools, $13 million in new funds to charter schools, and $1 million to cover administrative costs.
The Senate will be in recess next week, and it remains unclear as to when the District of Columbia spending bill will be completed.
House Committee Action
Iraq and Afghanistan Emergency Supplemental
On September 30, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs heard testimony on the FY2004 supplemental spending bill (as-yet-unnumbered) for Afghanistan and Iraq.
Earlier this month, the President requested an additional $87.039 billion in FY2004 for certain programs under the Department of Defense, Department of State, USAID, and the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund.
During her opening statement, Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) expressed her concern for the plight of women in Afghanistan and recounted her meetings with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. She explained that a number of women on the Commission were working to draft a bill of women’s rights to include the rights to “freedom of speech, freedom to vote, stand for election, equal representation in parliament and the judiciary, equal pay with men, and mandatory education for girls through secondary school.” Rep. Lowey concluded that the women of Afghanistan “need and deserve us to make an extra effort to plan and implement programs aimed at helping educate men and women and empower women in that society.”
Andrew Natsios, USAID Administrator, addressed the plight of women and girls of Afghanistan in his testimony. Under Taliban rule, only six to seven percent of the girls in the country attended school. USAID therefore created incentives for more girls to go to school. “We give a vegetable oil supplement if girls stay in class the whole day, in areas of the country where there is low attendance by girls,” he explained. In addition, Mr. Natsios said that USAID had helped to rebuild the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and a number of women’s centers in Afghanistan.
During the question and answer session, Rep. Lowey asked Mr. Natsios to comment on the progress being made to assist women in education, health care, and other social areas. He said that a main concern of the Administration is the high rate of maternal mortality in Afghanistan. “And one of the things we’re doing, through the women’s center system and these clinics we’re building, is to find women who come from poor families…who will agree to be trained as midwives. Because if we have a system of midwives through these clinics we’re building around the country, we can reduce the maternal mortality rate substantially.” Mr. Natsios said that USAID is beginning a campaign with the Ministry of Health to reduce anemia rates of women in Afghanistan, which has become a serious problem. Finally, he noted that USAID has opened 17 child care centers in the rebuilt ministries, “so the women civil servants can go back to work and have their children cared for within the ministries themselves.”
The House Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense and Military Construction also held hearings on the FY2004 supplemental spending bill this week. The full committee plans to mark up the bill on October 9.