By Shervin Boloorian and Billy Dume, National Iranian American Council
Washington DC, June 14, 2006 - On June 13, 2006, a conference agreement reconciling differences between supplemental House and Senate spending measures cleared the House Floor by a 351 to 67 vote. The agreement appropriated $66 million for Iran democracy promotion programs, $9 million less than the amount attached to the Senate-adopted version of the bill.
To meet unanticipated needs not covered by the federal budget, the bulk of HR 4939’s funding is made available for a host of US foreign and domestic engagements, including, Iraq reconstruction and military support, Hurricane Katrina restoration efforts, and the ethnic conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Military operations abroad and foreign aid alone encompasses $70.4 billion of the total spending figure, according to the conference report.
A number of accounts containing resources for certain Iran-specific programs are contained in the conference agreement.
Conference bill appropriators set aside $20 million for Department of State’s (DOS) programs and activities promoting democracy in Iran, to be administered by the Middle East Partnership Initiative and in consultation with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Democracy fund grants under this section of the conference agreement amount to double the figure contained in the original House bill and almost $14.75 million less than the Senate-approved total.
Senate language that strengthens Congressional oversight protections pertaining to the distribution of Iran DOS democracy fund grants is retained in the Conference agreement. Reporting requirements found in the House version of HR 4939 also remain in tact.
The agreement appropriates $1.4 billion for DOS diplomatic and consular operations relating to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran; roughly falling in line with President Bush’s spending limits. Of this spending amount, $5 million is dedicated to expanding public diplomacy information programs relating to Iran and another $5 million is provided to strengthen academic, professional, and cultural exchanges with Iran proposed as ways of improving democratization within the country.
International broadcasting operations promoting democracy in Iran were awarded the largest share of Iran’s supplemental apportionment. According to the conference agreement, $10 million was reserved for international transmissions into Iran, slightly higher than the $7.6 million included in the House version, and one-third of the Senate’s appropriation levels for the same activity. As well, roughly $26 million was reserved for capital improvements relating to US international broadcasting programs and pro-democracy activities.
In February, Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice detailed to members of Congress a $75 million request for special new programs to promote democracy in Iran. Ultimately, House and Senate Conferees deemed that request poorly justified, providing $66 million through existing programs rather than new ones, according to the conference agreement.
Hammering out a compromise between House and Senate versions of HR 4939 did not seem likely due to a significant $17 billion gap lying between the spending totals of the two measures.
Conservative Republicans and administration officials decried the more expensive Senate supplemental plan for directing too much taxpayer support for non-germane items. Avoiding a potentially bruising battle with the White House which had threatened to veto an overpriced bill, Conferees scaled down supplemental spending to levels closer to the House-adopted total.
According to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the Senate is now scheduled to debate and complete work on the spending bill this week before it is sent to the President for final approval.
For more information on HR 4939, visit the House Appropriations Committee website.
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