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Senate Considers State Department Authorization Bill

This week, the Senate considered the State Department authorization bill (S. 925). The bill was pulled from the Senate floor to avoid consideration of an amendment to increase the minimum wage, which Sen.Ted Kennedy (D-MA) said he planned to offer. Action on the bill may be completed next week.

S. 925 would authorize $9 billion for the State Department in FY2004 and includes two separate pieces of legislation approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year: S. 1161, which would authorize $17 billion for foreign assistance in FY2004 (see The Source, 5/23/03); and S. 1240, which would authorize $1 billion for the Millennium Challenge Assistance program to grant foreign assistance based on a country’s commitment to democratic rule and capitalism.

During consideration of the bill, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Richard Lugar (R-IN) offered a number of amendments en bloc as a substitute amendment. Included in the substitute was an amendment by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) that would express the sense of Congress that the United States should continue to condemn violence against women and should urge states to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition, or practices in the name of religion or culture as a means to avoid obligations regarding the elimination of violence against women as referred to in Article 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Also included in the substitute was an amendment by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) that would ensure that the benefits under the Millennium Challenge Assistance program are available to the intended beneficiaries, including women and children. The substitute was agreed to by unanimous consent.

The Senate also approved the following amendments:

  • an amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) that would provide emergency food aid for HIV/AIDS victims. The amendment was adopted by voice vote;
  • an amendment by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that would express the sense of Congress that the HIV/AIDS bill (P.L. 108-25) should be fully funded at $3 billion when appropriations are made, even if doing so would exceed the funding allowed by the FY2004 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 95). The amendment was adopted, 78-18.

Finally, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would overturn the Mexico City policy, which bars overseas nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. aid from using their own money to perform abortions or to lobby foreign governments on abortion policy. Prior to a vote on a motion to table the amendment, it was agreed that if the motion failed, the amendment automatically would be adopted. The motion failed, 43-53.

In introducing her amendment, Sen. Boxer argued that “the global rule is undemocratic. It is a miserable impediment to poor women. It would be unconstitutional if imposed on our own citizens. It is bad foreign policy.” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) countered that the “Mexico City policy is a very commonsense policy” and is “based in part on the belief that U.S. taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize or support organizations that perform abortions overseas for family planning programs.”

The House International Relations Committee approved, 42-3, its version of the State Department authorization bill (H.R. 1950) on May 8 (see The Source, 5/9/03). Under H.R. 1950, no changes would be made to the Mexico City policy. The full House is expected to consider the bill next week.

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