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Senate Committee Approves Reauthorization of Foreign Aid Programs

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 23 approved, by voice vote, a bill (as-yet-unnumbered) that would reauthorize for one year a number of U.S. foreign aid programs. Most of these programs have gone unauthorized since 1985, but they have received funding annually through the appropriations process.

Sponsored by Committee Chair Jesse Helms (R-NC), the Technical Assistance, Trade Promotion, and Anti-Corruption Act of 2000 includes language that would require increased enforcement of a 27-year prohibition on the use of U.S. funds for the performance or promotion of abortion abroad, known as the Helms Amendment. Since its enactment in 1973, there have been no violations of the restriction and the General Accounting Office is set to deliver a report on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) enforcement of the Helms Amendment sometime this summer.

Under the Chair’s mark, the bill would require USAID to perform annual audits on organizations receiving U.S. funds for family planning services abroad. USAID would be required to certify that the organizations had not violated the law in the preceding fiscal year in order to receive money. If an organization was found to have violated the law, then the organization would be barred from receiving U.S funds for 10 years. Under current law, organizations that are in violation of the restriction are barred from receiving funding for three years. According to USAID, there are strict procedures in place to ensure that there are no violations of the law. These include legally binding contracts, close technical monitoring, and regular audits.

During the mark-up, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) expressed her concern about the restrictive language, which is likely to be the subject of heated debate when the measure reaches the Senate floor.

The committee approved, by voice vote, a manager’s amendment, offered by Sen. Helms and ranking Democrat Joe Biden (D-DE). The Helms/Biden amendment incorporated a number of provisions that reflect several stand-alone bills authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Bill Frist (R-TN), John Kerry (D-MA), Daniel Moynihan (D-NY), and Gordon Smith (R-OR).

The manager’s amendment reflects the committee’s commitment to addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis worldwide by authorizing over $500 million for HIV/AIDS activities. The bill would authorize $50 million for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, $10 million for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, $100 million for an HIV/AIDS trust fund at the World Bank, $50 million for an orphan trust fund at the World Bank, and $300 million for HIV/AIDS prevention programs at USAID. Under the bill, not less than 65 percent of USAID’s HIV/AIDS funding must be allocated to nongovernmental organizations, not less than 20 percent must be spent on programs to support and educate orphans, and not less than 8.3 percent must be allocated for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

The bill also would direct the President to negotiate with other foreign governments on the establishment of an international vaccine purchase fund. Contributions to the fund would be used to purchase vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, and other infectious diseases. Additionally, the measure would authorize $60 million for tuberculosis prevention, treatment, control, and elimination efforts.

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