Hemmed in by record-setting deficits and that little money hole we call Iraq, the Bush administration is emptying out the entire budget of the United States Agency of International Development’s international disaster and famine assistance program in order to provide relief for the Tsunami victims.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and an early critic of the administration’s first pledges – $15 million and $35 million – for the tsunami victims, said he was pleased with the current $350 million pledge. But now, he said, he was worried that it would come at the expense of “famine victims in Africa and victims of genocide around the world.”
“I worry that the administration is robbing Peter to pay Paul, helping people dying from disease and dehydration in Indonesia and Sri Lanka but taking that money from programs to relieve famine and childhood diseases,” Mr. Leahy said.
With Congress not in session most of the month, the administration is consulting with senior Republican lawmakers, trying to cover the costs of this disaster without undermining Mr. Bush’s other priorities like cutting the budget deficit while making his tax cuts permanent.
The administration plans to rely largely on money in the international disaster and famine assistance program at the United States Agency of International Development, according to Mr. Kolton.
That program’s budget is $384.9 million for the fiscal year of 2005. The initial $350 million for the tsunami disaster would nearly eliminate funds available for any disaster later in the year.
Nancy E. Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps, a relief organization, said the government could not afford to “hamstring itself and be unprepared for future disasters.”
“A disaster of this magnitude has to be paid out of a supplemental bill, not from existing accounts,” Ms. Lindborg said.
Mr. Leahy proposed again that the administration should use money from the Iraq reconstruction fund. The administration did shift $3.46 billion from the $18.4 billion Iraqi aid package last autumn into security and job-creation programs.
The administration also ruled out using any money from the more than $18 billion set aside for the reconstruction of Iraq, even though much of that money cannot be spent because of the continuing war, according to Chad Kolton, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.
“No, we will not use Iraq reconstruction money,” Mr. Kolton said. “We have the resources in hand, and that’s where the money is coming from. It’s not a matter of ginning up new aid – the federal government actually budgets for disasters.”