WASHINGTON -- A House committee reversed itself Wednesday and voted to give President Bush broad discretion to withhold money that Congress approved last fall for international family planning programs.
The Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee handed the White House the victory as it approved a $29.4 billion package of military and anti-terrorism spending. The full House should vote next week on the measure, which covers the final months of the fiscal year that runs through September.
Bush asked for $27.1 billion for the overall package, the latest response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Democratic-led Senate has not yet written its version, but it is expected to exceed the House total by several billion dollars.
In a second win for Bush, the House panel also headed off language that would have prevented Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld from killing the planned Crusader artillery system.
Concerned that their amendment might fail, supporters of the $11 billion weapon settled for nonbinding language directing Rumsfeld to "take no action that would precipitously stop work" on the Crusader until Congress has voted on the program's fate. That, in effect, means the fight will resume later this year when lawmakers write the 2003 Pentagon spending bill.
By a near party-line 32-30 vote, the Appropriations panel approved a provision by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., giving Bush until July 31 to decide whether to spend any of the $34 million for overseas family planning that lawmakers approved and Bush signed into law last December.
Bush has declined to spend any of the money, which was supposed to go to the United Nations Population Fund, which runs family planning programs in 140 countries. In withholding the funds, the administration has cited conservatives' accusations that the U.N. agency's activities in China abet forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations.
U.N. officials and their supporters deny the charge, and the U.N. program uses no U.S. funds in China. The Bush administration has sent a commission to China to search for evidence of forced family planning and U.N. links to it, and its report is expected soon after it returns in two weeks.
"This leaves the decision on the money up to the administration," Tiahrt said after the vote.
Wednesday's vote reversed a 32-31 tally by the committee last week approving language requiring Bush to release the $34 million by July 10 unless U.N. complicity in coerced abortions and sterilizations was found.
"There are people out there who desperately need this money," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who sponsored the earlier provision with Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.