The Los Angeles riots may soon claim an unexpected victim: President Bush's proposal for $24 billion in multinational aid for Russia.
Bush's request for a bill authorizing his aid program has run into serious problems on Capitol Hill, where an election-year focus on domestic problems has been intensified by the riots--and has made Congress less willing than before to launch a major new foreign aid program.
"This legislation is in deep trouble," Sen. Robert Kasten (R-Wis.), senior Republican on the foreign aid subcommittee, said at a hearing this week.
"Before we'll consider billions of dollars for Russia, we want . . . some sign of concern for Americans who are having problems right here at home," said Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), the House majority whip.
He said the riots in Los Angeles and other cities strengthened his point.
Bonior is leading a drive in the House to reject the aid unless Bush agrees to Democratic proposals for extended jobless benefits and a public works job program.
"I'm going to do all that I can within my power . . . to block any assistance," he said.
Some conservative Republicans don't like the aid request because it gives a big role to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, institutions they consider unenthusiastic about private enterprise.
Even Democrats and Republicans who favor aid for Russia complain that the Administration hasn't provided a credible accounting of how much the aid is likely to cost.
"There's no dollar amount anywhere," Kasten complained at a hearing Wednesday. "This is a mess, and we ought to admit that. It's a political mess--but it's also a budgeting mess, because people have not been realistic in regard to how much this is going to cost."
On top of those problems, a congressional aide said, "the riots in L.A. may have been the last straw. . . . It's causing everyone to step back and take another look."
The bill, which Bush sent to Congress last month, would authorize the Administration to provide increased humanitarian and technical aid to Russia, join in IMF lending programs to support Moscow's economy and help underwrite a $6-billion fund to stabilize Russia's currency, the ruble.
The $24 billion would come from several countries; Administration officials have estimated the U.S. share at varying levels from $3 billion to $5 billion, most of it in loans.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, criticized it as "a Rube Goldberg hodgepodge of current and new money, technical and humanitarian assistance and massive loan guarantees . . . lumped together without theme, theory or consistency."
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a staunch Bush ally, noted that the President has been "gun-shy" about promoting any foreign aid initiative during an election year.
Bush asked Congress to act quickly to approve the bill before Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin visits Washington on June 16. But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Thursday that it has postponed action on the bill for a week to give senators time to offer amendments.