Thursday, September 25, 2008

Congress adopts foreign aid bill for 2009

First published in July 17, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Congressional panel sets Armenia aid guidelines
Rep. Knollenberg’s proposal to cut Azerbaijan aid fails
by Emil Sanamyan

WASHINGTON – The House Foreign Operations Subcommittee voted on July 16 to approve $52 million in economic assistance to Armenia, $8 million for Nagorno-Karabakh, and $3 million each in military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Bush Administration had requested $24 million for Armenia, nothing for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and $3.3 million in military aid to Armenia (as against $3.9 million in military aid to Azerbaijan). Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.- Mich.), a member of the subcommittee, offered an amendment that would strike out the Azerbaijani military aid allocation.

Citing Azerbaijan’s militaristic behavior, Mr. Knollenberg said in a statement that “it is completely unbelievable and unacceptable that there would be any U.S. funding of Azerbaijan’s military. The U.S. absolutely must not fund or support the Azeris’ bellicose behavior.”

The amendment was rejected by an 8 to 7 vote largely along partisan lines. A number of Armenia’s congressional friends voted against it.

According to sources familiar with the issue, the subcommittee does not normally accept amendments from the minority party at the mark-up stage. As Mr. Knollenberg
is a Republican, the Democrats on the committee blocked his amendment as a matter of procedure rather than on its merits.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) was the only Democrat on the subcommittee to cross party lines and support Mr. Knollenberg’s amendment. That created a 7-7 tie, which was broken by the chair of the full Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey (D.-Wis.)

Earlier this year, Mr. Knollenberg and other congressional friends of Armenia circulated a letter urging subcommittee chair Nita Lowey (D.-N.Y.) and ranking member Frank Wolf (R.-Va.) to support zeroing out of military aid to Azerbaijan, $70 million in economic aid and $5 million in military aid to Armenia, and $10 million in aid to Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The subcommittee chairperson, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, has historically been a strong supporter of Armenia and Karabakh,” said Ross Vartian, executive director of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC). “We appreciate her leadership in providing $36 million more in assistance to Armenia and Karabakh than requested by the Bush Administration.

“But we disagree with the subcommittee’s inadequate response to Azerbaijan’s war preparation and threats. The Bush administration’s public criticism of Azerbaijan has had no effect on that country’s military expenditures or its repeated warnings of another war. The Knollenberg amendment to cut off U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan is precisely what is needed beyond welcome, but ineffective U.S. rhetoric,” Mr. Vartian added.

According to congressional sources, the foreign operations appropriations bill will not be enacted by the House and Senate this year. As in some years past, funding for this and other stalled appropriations bills will be combined into an omnibus bill at prior-year funding levels. Congressional allocation of assistance to Armenia totaled $58.5 million in fiscal year 2008.

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