Albright Stumps to Save Her Budget

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Foreign aid is never popular with politicians during an election year. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is gearing up for a big battle with Congress next month to head off what her top aides say are "shocking" cuts that the Republicans want to make in her budget for next year.

Clinton has asked Congress for about $23 billion in fiscal year 2001 for foreign aid and for running the State Department — which is about the same as what will be spent this year. But the appropriations bills now making their way through the House and Senate would slash that request by about $2 billion.

The problem is death by a thousand cuts. "Everybody takes out their knife and does surgery on some portion of the bill so you end up with everybody slashing at everything," grouses a senior State Department official. "How are we supposed to support democracy around the world if they keep cutting our democracy and development fund?" For example, money for peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and other trouble spots has been cut by a third. The Senate has slashed by 71 percent funds Clinton wanted to use to relieve Africa's crushing debt, which administration aides say is critical to fighting poverty there.

Then there's embassy security. The State Department has been under fire from Congress for lax security at its foreign posts ever since terror attacks two years ago Monday at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 263. But the Senate bill would cut $137 million earmarked for security upgrades overseas.

A final foreign aid bill won't come out of Congress until September, when lawmakers return from their summer recess. In the meantime, Albright plans to hit the speaking circuit to complain about the trims, while her aides lobby behind the scenes to restore what's been hacked off. Otherwise "we're heading for a train wreck on foreign policy programs," warns one of her advisers.