WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin expressed confidence Wednesday that Congress will approve $18 billion for the International Monetary Fund despite a decision by House Republican leaders to delay action until September.
"It is imperative for our economy," Rubin told reporters. "I believe in the final analysis ... we will get a clean vote on IMF on the House floor."
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday put off considering a $12.8 billion foreign operations bill and attached IMF funding because of disagreements between GOP critics of the IMF and pro-business lawmakers who support its efforts to save faltering world economies.
The bill approved by a House subcommittee had $3.4 billion for the IMF, but some members of the committee want to add $14.5 billion in credit that was requested by the Clinton administration.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston told Republican leaders he couldn't "in good conscience" send the foreign operations bill to the House without voting on IMF in committee first, something that could create problems for GOP critics.
"I tend to sympathize with the argument that the IMF is not up to snuff ...," Livingston said. "But I also agree with the argument that we've got an Asian crisis, we've got a Russian crisis and that deferring IMF funding again this year would send a psychological message to the world that America is retreating within its borders and becoming more isolationist."
Livingston, R-La., said he hoped the full $18 billion for the IMF will be approved when the measure comes up again after an August recess.
"Hopefully, there will be a more definitive understanding of the size and scope of the Asian and Russian problem," Livingston said. "Hopefully, we'll have more of a consensus among our (GOP) membership about what to do, too."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, has promised an all-out effort to fight full funding because of alleged IMF mismanagement. Complicating matters, Armey and Livingston are engaged in a behind-the-scenes battle to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker if he steps down to run for president next year.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry called the delay on IMF funding "a very shortsighted result of what is political theater under way within the Congress" during an election year. He urged lawmakers to listen to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who has told Congress the key factor affecting the U.S. economy is the Asian financial crisis.
"It's going to be necessary for others in leadership positions to step up to their obligations to lead and to move this measure forward," McCurry said.
Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said delaying the IMF vote could contribute to another downward spiral in Asia, where currencies have plummeted, decreasing the market for U.S. exports.
"Asia, in my view, is only going to get worse," Obey said in an interview. "This foot-dragging is running an incredible risk."
Some House lawmakers also want to amend the IMF measure to restrict funding for family planning programs overseas, a condition that would attract a veto from President Clinton, according to the administration.
The Senate approved $18 billion for the IMF in March. Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday included the $18 billion for the fund in its 1999 foreign operations spending bill.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the House leadership's delays are making a bad situation worse at a time when the IMF's coffers are being depleted by multibillion-dollar loans to several Asian nations and, this week, Russia.
"It's an irresponsible decision by House leadership, and this country is going to pay a heavy price," he said.
Conditions that some lawmakers want to impose on the IMF include ending below-market subsidized loasn to regular borrowers and making it publicly disclose the minutes of its meetings and details of its budget.