WASHINGTON — President Bush, under pressure to reward Warsaw for its dramatic political shifts, offered Poland $50 million in emergency food assistance Thursday to help carry its shaky economy through the winter.
The assistance Bush announced brings to $108.4 million the current U.S. food aid for Poland. On Aug. 1, he announced a $50-million food assistance package, which came on top of an $8.4-million emergency food aid program.
These measures, along with others previously announced, fall short of the massive economic assistance Poland has sought to take the pressure off the new Solidarity-led government, which faces staggering inflation, a moribund economy and serious food shortages. However, the American aid is intended to complement a $140-million effort by European nations, Japan and Canada.
Bush has been encouraged by Congress to provide massive financial assistance to bail newly installed Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki out of the overwhelming economic jam his government has inherited and as a reward for holding the free parliamentary elections that brought in a Cabinet where the Communists do not hold a majority.
Several hours before the President announced his plan, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, proposed writing off a $2-billion Polish agricultural debt. His plan would also provide $150 million in food and another $100 million in foreign assistance and would encourage the private sector to donate $10 million to Poland.
Food Riots in Past
Over the last 40 years, food riots have toppled Communist Party leaders in Poland--but not the party itself--and Leahy said the gift of food would allow the new non-Communist officials to "show the people they are better off under them than they were under the Communists."
"We need to do more, and our efforts must be long-lasting," Leahy said in a statement.
But an Administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the White House will aggressively try to pare back Leahy's package, respecting the Poles' own admonition that "we've got to be independent of the United States."
Meanwhile, in a separate move, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $35 million in assistance for the Polish private sector and $10 million in agricultural assistance.
Countering the pressure on Bush to boost aid for Poland has been concern that simply pumping money into Poland before wage levels are held down and inefficient industries are trimmed would only delay such difficult measures.
And U.S. officials question whether Solidarity, a labor union, will make such choices unless it has no alternative. Meanwhile, they believe Poland's economic inefficiency will discourage many private investors from providing large amounts of cash.
The White House said the aid announced Thursday will include unspecified quantities of meat, corn, butter, cotton, rice and various oils. Also, loans with lenient payback terms will be offered.
One White House official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified by name, said the assistance does not represent a major boost. Rather, he said, "it takes a little bit of the pressure off. Right now they've got a food-price squeeze."
On April 17, as Poland took the first steps toward holding free parliamentary elections, Bush announced a modest package of trade and economic benefits, including duty-free treatment of Poland's exports to the United States, and support for Poland's efforts to reduce the cost of paying its $39-billion foreign debt.
Then, on July 10, during a visit to Warsaw, the President unveiled a $119-million assistance program, which included $100 million to invigorate the Polish private sector, $15 million in aid to help clean up severe air pollution in Krakow and $4 million in labor assistance.
Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, has said the broad reach of Poland's problems will require $10 billion in Western aid over three years. Walesa, who welcomed Bush to his home in Gdansk in July, is scheduled to visit Washington in November.
Although the amount already offered to Poland, not only by the United States but also by the other major industrialized nations, falls well short of the funds sought by Walesa, experts outside the government portrayed it as enough to help build up the private sector.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) called the aid "a clear signal to Poland, and around the world, that we are prepared to take special steps to support the new government."
Times staff writers Art Pine and Sara Fritz contributed to this story.