WASHINGTON — Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), strongly defending his actions but contending that further argument would be counterproductive, said Monday that he will ask Congress to rescind an $8-million grant to African Jews in France that he had steered through Capitol Hill last December.
Contrary to some news media reports, Inouye said, "I did not sneak this legislation into law." The funding was discussed and approved "in the full light of day, with the press and public present" during regularly scheduled committee meetings, he said.
Nonetheless, Inouye said, approval of the money has fed the public's "deep suspicion" of Congress. "I have made an error in judgment, and I intend to correct that error, for I fear I have embarrassed my colleagues."
The grant in question was part of the $600-billion omnibus spending bill that cleared Congress in the final days of the 1987 session. The unusual public retreat by a senior member of the Senate is a further sign of the growing disgruntlement over such last-day legislation that lumps together a wide range of projects.
President Reagan denounced the use of omnibus spending bills during his State of the Union speech last week, receiving applause from both Republicans and Democrats when he dropped a copy of last year's foot-thick document on the Speaker's lectern for emphasis. Even before Reagan's speech, many in Congress, particularly junior members, had told legislative leaders that they would vote against such "continuing resolutions" in the future.
Limits Veto Power
Reagan complained that the omnibus measures deny him the right to decide which spending programs to approve and which to veto. Some in Congress have charged that it is impossible to thoroughly examine all of the contents of the huge bills and that the congressional leadership exercises undue clout in brokering the final version in one last-minute conference committee forum.
Inouye's little-known project became a lightning rod for the criticism after the Associated Press reported on it a few days after President Reagan signed the omnibus spending bill.
The measure directed $8 million from the State Department's refugee budget to a New York-based charity, Ozar Hatorah, which provides aid to Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, known as Sephardim.
Neither France, where many of the Jews have settled, nor the U.S. government considers them to be refugees, and some U.S. officials complained that the funding was unwarranted and was approved only to avoid derailing the overall bill.
Rightist Tide in France
Inouye, although backing down on the funding, insisted that he still believes the Sephardim deserve aid. They "remain refugees" he said, " . . . fearful of a rising tide of right-wing nationalism" in France and still facing persecution in their North African homes.
He insisted also that his support for the grant was in no way related to a $1,000 campaign contribution he had received from Zev Wolfson, a New York real estate developer who sits on Ozar Hatorah's board of directors.
"Never before have I been accused of taking 30 pieces of silver," he said. "I was disappointed, hurt and angered by the accusation." He did not solicit Wolfson's contribution and had not known of it, Inouye said, noting that he has never had to raise much money for his campaigns.