Foreign and Defense Policy: Key Issues in the 106th Congress

When the 106th Congress comes to work in January, its first order of business will be to deal with the impeachment of the President of the United States. The 1998 congressional campaigns and elections suggested that the agenda of the 106th Congress also will be largely domestic in its focus: Social Security, health care, and education were the order of the day in campaigns across America and on post-election news programs. Indeed, of the issues discussed in this report, only increased defense spending to address military readiness and retention of trained military personnel has been reported on recently, as the President announced over New Year's weekend his proposal to ask for a substantial increase in the FY2000 budget for military pay and hardware development. Most immediately, the 106th Congress is expected to consider a supplemental appropriations bill to support the Wye River Memorandum, including increased assistance to Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Congress likely will quickly consider new assistance and trade benefits to Central American countries hit hardest by Hurricane Mitch. Development aid to countries severely affected by the global financial crisis, and more humanitarian assistance to Kosovo are another two issues that might find their way into a supplemental appropriations bill in the first few months of the new Congress. The United States also stands in arrears with the United Nations and the World Bank, but neither matter is expected to receive appropriators' attention in the supplemental. There are a few routine foreign affairs and defense issues to be addressed by the 106th Congress, albeit with less urgency than the supplemental appropriations. The President will issue international narcotics control certifications before March 1st, as required by law. For any country found to be trafficking or producing narcotics, certification could jeopardize its receipt of U.S. foreign assistance; Congress might respond with legislation supporting or negating specific countries' certification status. New authorizations and appropriations bills will be considered for departments and agencies. Authorization for some foreign assistance programs expires before the end of the first session, and reauthorizations are likely to be taken up. The President's authority to waive proliferation sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan last May must be renewed this year or be allowed to expire, which would require the reimposition of sanctions that many Members of Congress find counterproductive. Several laws remain in the United States Code that were shaped during the Cold War. The 106th Congress could turn its attention to these. Previous several Congresses have made some effort to amend, repeal, or replace the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and Export Administration Act of 1979; consensus on new provisions, however, has not been reached. Congress has not enacted a foreign aid authorization bill since 1985, each year waiving the requirement to do so and relying on the annual appropriations measure to express its foreign policy interests and opinions. Export controls in the Export Administration Act expired in 1994 and since then have been left entirely to the executive branch to administer.