Bush to Congress: Don’t Go Home Before Voting Nicaragua Aid With AM-Bush Rdp Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush on Wednesday accused Congress of risking ″the hopes of freedom″ in Nicaragua and Panama by failing to quickly pass an emergency aid bill and said lawmakers should not leave for their Memorial Day recess before acting.
However, he said he would not sign a bill including ″mischievous language″ providing abortion money for Washington, D.C., as one current version does.
Several Democrats suggested the delay wasn’t their fault, and one accused Bush of a taking a ″cheap shot″ at them to divert attention from bigger problems such as dealing with the economy.
The president said he has exhausted all administrative avenues for providing aid to the three-week old government of Nicaragua’s President Violeta Chamorro and cannot legally grant her request for an emergency $40 million loan. The Treasury Department cannot make such loans without assurance Nicaragua would get U.S. aid or other revenues to pay it back.
Bush renewed his plea for congressional movement on his proposal for $300 million for Nicaragua and $500 million for the new pro-American government of Panama.
″We must not let the procedural gridlock in Congress destroy the hopes of freedom in these two fledgling democracies,″ the president said.
Bush added, however, that he will veto any aid package that reaches his desk with language that approves federal money for abortions in the District of Columbia.
He blasted Congress for piling on that and other amendments ″that have absolutely nothing to do with Nicaragua and Panama.″
″The American people are frustrated by the inability of Congress to do business in a prompt and orderly fashion,″ said Bush.
On Capitol Hill, however, Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., said that ″nobody is screaming in my district″ about aid to Nicaragua and Panama. Instead, he said, they are talking about education, health care, the budget deficit and other domestic issues.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said Bush was merely taking a ″cheap shot″ at Congress in order to take attention away from bigger problems.
The House, he said, has followed its rules, only to be thrown off course by Republicans in the House and Senate.
Democrats indicated it was unlikely the money bill would be passed before the end of next week when Congress is scheduled to begin its Memorial Day recess.
Republican whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia retorted that the Democrats were guilty of ″destructively irresponsible actions,″ that the two nations were being jeopardized by ″petty congressional games.″
The Nicaragua-Panama aid package is tangled in a legislative knot.
First, the House must pass an authorization bill to spend the money. That bill, which has already passed the Senate, will be taken up by the House on Monday. It includes a Democrat-driven proposal to hold back military aid for El Salvador in 1990 and 1991 in an effort to promote peace negotiations in that war-torn Central American country.
At the same time, House-Senate negotiators met Wednesday afternoon to deal with the appropriations bill, which has billions of dollars of domestic projects attached to it. They didn’t finish work on the measure.
Bush first requested the Panama aid in January and added the Nicaragua request following Mrs. Chamorro’s election on Feb. 25.
With add-on amendments, he said, the bill has tripled in size.
The president said he wanted passage of a bill this week or early next week and, failing that, ″I will call on the Congress to remain in session until it completes action on a bill I can sign.″
″The situation in Nicaragua is critical,″ Bush said. ″Mrs. Chamorro’s government is absolutely bankrupt.″
Bush said he had even asked his aides to look into whether the government could encourage private lending to help the new Nicaraguan government through its economic crisis, but that such lenders would run into the same type of collateral problem the U.S. government has.
Mrs. Chamorro sent Bush a May 11 cable requesting a $40 million bridge loan to enable her to get through the immediate financial crisis.
She said the Sandinista government that preceded her had run the treasury dry and left reserves that will not get the country through the next month.
She is beset by a paralyzing pro-Sandinista strike by government workers nationwide.
Striking public employees have occupied public buildings, phone service has been interrupted and other public utilities and services impeded by the strike.
Officially, the strikers want a 200 percent pay raise, a subsidized food package, rehiring of a labor leader fired Monday, and the demobilization of the Contra rebels.
In the Nicaragua aid package that the administration is seeking, $30 million would be earmarked for humanitarian aid and resettlement of the Contras who are stationed in five temporary encampments within Nicaragua while they disarm and resettle.
Organization of American States officials, who are distributing food to the Contras, say the Contras will be out of food by the weekend.
Some administration officials have said that could unravel the whole peace process that brought the rebels to the camps, because they still have their weapons and might leave the security zones and get into conflict with Sandinista soldiers.