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House Strips Funding for IMF From Bill

Congress: Administration calls move 'shortsighted' in view of continuing economic crisis in Asia.

April 25, 1998|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday criticized top congressional leaders for stripping its controversial $18-billion International Monetary Fund bill from an emergency spending measure late Thursday, but insisted the battle for passage of the legislation was not over.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told reporters it was "extremely shortsighted" for lawmakers to have dropped the IMF provisions, particularly in view of the continuing economic crisis in Asia, but he suggested that officials may try to tack it on to other bills.

Administration strategists were taken aback after House leaders dealt a double-barreled blow to the legislation. First, they insisted that the Senate drop the IMF provision from its version of the bill. Later, they defeated a Democratic bid to force action on the measure.

But administration officials and House supporters of the measure insisted Friday that there still was a chance that proponents could push through the IMF measure.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Thursday that GOP leaders would bring "an appropriate bill" to the floor later this year, although he suggested that the House may hold new hearings--a move that could tie it up until just before adjournment.

The measure, which would provide an $18-billion line of credit to help replenish the lending resources of the 182-country IMF, has run into a wall of opposition from conservative Republicans, who contend the IMF is unnecessary and must be reformed to justify additional funds.

The administration contends, however, that passage of the measure is essential to enable the organization to cope with any worsening of the Asian financial crisis. The IMF lends money to financially troubled countries to help get them back on their feet.

In a speech in Chicago on Friday, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin called the House action "a serious bottleneck" that could "increase our vulnerability."

"I am deeply concerned that support for forward-looking international economic policies may be moving backward at a time when this country's economic, national security and geopolitical interests require just the opposite," Rubin said.

Congressional strategists say the outlook for the legislation is complex. Although the Senate already has approved the IMF funding and is pushing the House to pass the measure, Gingrich is under pressure from House conservatives to keep the bill off the floor.

Proponents insist that the 222-186 vote that defeated the Democratic attempt to bring the IMF provision to a vote understated the extent of support for bolstering the IMF. Some 22 Republicans broke ranks with conservatives to support the provision.

Nevertheless, congressional strategists concede that the legislation faces a plethora of other challenges from Republicans, including demands by some conservatives that the administration make concessions on key abortion issues in return for their support.

The emergency spending bill to which the IMF provision had been attached would have provided about $2.4 billion for the military.

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