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In The House

GOP working on welfare

WASHINGTON - A House Ways and Means subcommittee approved a new Republican welfare-to-work plan Wednesday and voted 8-4 along party lines to send it to the full committee.

Republicans on the human resources subcommittee said that in the spirit of compromise, they included in the bill several ideas supported by President Clinton, who has vetoed two earlier GOP welfare overhaul plans.

But the subcommittee’s Democrats contended the bill still is too mean-spirited and too harsh on children.

Benefits going to most welfare recipients would be cut off after five years under the bill. It would allow hardship exceptions to the time limit for up to 20 percent of state caseloads.

The bill would require single parents to work a minimum of 25 hours a week, down from 35 hours a week required by a previous GOP welfare plan. It would set aside $2 billion for a contingency fund for states.

Foreign aid down, defense up

WASHINGTON - Foreign aid spending seemed headed downward again Wednesday as the House debated a bill that would cut funds for international organizations and reduce aid to Russia in fiscal 1997.

The bill, apparently headed for passage, provides $11.9 billion for foreign aid and export financing programs, down $458 million from 1996 and compared with $13.7 billion budgeted in 1995.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee approved an $11 billion increase for the 1997 defense budget, targeting $245.8 billion for military programs.

The White House threatened to veto the bill, saying much of the increase goes for weapons not included in the Pentagon’s long-range plans.

The foreign aid bill fully funds Israel with $3 billion and Egypt with $2.1 billion in military and economic aid, sets up a $600 million child survival and disease program and meets the administration’s request for $190 million in international disaster relief.

The bill also includes anti-abortion language concerning family planning programs that Callahan said he hoped would be acceptable to the Senate. Last year the foreign aid bill was stalled for months because the Senate refused to go along with provisions restricting funds for groups involved in abortions.

This year the bill cuts 50 percent from past funding for private family planning groups unless they certify they will not perform abortions in any foreign countries or violate the abortion laws of those countries. Population assistance is capped at 65 percent of 1995 levels, or about $356 million.

The administration, in a statement, strongly opposed the family planning restrictions, saying they could lead to increased unintended pregnancy, maternal and infant death and the need for recourse to abortion.

No ads without a note from Newt

House Republicans introduced legislation Wednesday to require labor unions to obtain written permission, renewed annually, from members before dues money can be used for political purposes.

The bill, by House employer-employee relations subcommittee chairman Harris Fawell, R-Ill., also would require unions to provide members with a ratio, certified by an outside auditor, of dues spent on collective bargaining relative to dues spent for other purposes.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who appeared at a news conference with Fawell, called the measure “a profound step toward democracy and freedom in the union movement.” He said current law permits “union bosses” to “coerce” union members into contributing to candidates they do not support.

Gingrich acknowledged that the bill was “brought to the forefront” by a $35 million campaign by the AFL-CIO using television and radio advertisements to highlight votes by lawmakers it considers anti-worker. FEC records show that more than 90 percent of union PAC contributions go to Democratic candidates.

Yes, we have no economy

WASHINGTON - The United States risks driving democratic Caribbean island nations into the arms of drug lords if it does not reverse itself and support their bid for trade preferences on banana sales to Europe, a diverse panel warned Wednesday.

Without an assured market for their bananas, the islands of the Eastern Caribbean face economic instability that could make them a prime transshipment area for South American cocaine traffickers seeking new routes to the United States, the panel said.