August 14, 2005: Headlines: Figures: Congress: Appropriations: Arizona Daily Star: Congressman Jim Kolbe making a mark in foreign-aid arena

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Congressman Jim Kolbe making a mark in foreign-aid arena

Congressman Jim  Kolbe making a mark in foreign-aid arena

Kolbe's subcommittee funds most foreign aid, as well as the Peace Corps, development banks, the Child Survival and Disease Programs Fund, the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund and the State Department's international narcotics interdiction and counterterrorism efforts.

Congressman Jim Kolbe making a mark in foreign-aid arena

Kolbe making a mark in foreign-aid arena
Aug 14, 2005 - Arizona Daily Star
Southeastern Arizona knows Jim Kolbe as its long-serving congressman. The world knows him as the go-to lawmaker for foreign aid.

Whether it's money to build homes in Gaza, eradicate poppy fields in Afghanistan or feed starving refugees in Sudan, the Tucson Republican has a say in how it's spent.

Some say Kolbe exercises a greater level of influence over American aid than almost any other member of Congress.

As chairman of the Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on foreign operations, export financing and related programs, Kolbe oversees the distribution of taxpayer dollars to disease-plagued and war-torn countries around the globe. During his chairmanship, his subcommittee has been responsible for legislation that has sent more than $101 billion to almost every major hot spot in the headlines today: rebuilding Iraq, helping tsunami victims in Indonesia and fighting drugs in Colombia.

The job has taken him to 27 countries in the past 2 1/2 years. And it has earned him an international reputation.

Immigration, border security and Social Security are the issues that have come to define Kolbe for his constituents. But by his own estimation, foreign aid consumes more than half the time he spends in Washington.

Political opponents argue that Kolbe - and his sprawling, 9,000- square-mile district - would be better off if he stayed closer to home. Kolbe, though, has embraced the responsibility with unabashed enthusiasm.

"I'm meeting with prime ministers and finance ministers and foreign ministers and ambassadors all the time," the 63-year-old lawmaker said. "It's proven to be 10 times better than I ever thought in terms of being able to influence foreign policy. I do not think there is another perch anywhere in Congress where you can have as much an influence over foreign policy as this one."

His stint ends in 2007

Elected to Congress in 1984, Kolbe has wielded the gavel over the "Foreign Ops" subcommittee since January 2001, eight months before international affairs took on a whole new significance for most Americans. Because of self-imposed term limits instituted by House Republicans a decade ago, his stint as chairman comes to a close with the current congressional term in January 2007.

Some top government officials and many - but not all - aid organizations will be sorry to see him go.

Andrew Natsios, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, praised Kolbe for understanding the link between foreign aid and national security in a world remade by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"If you have failed states, states that can't control their territory beyond their capital city, they are a huge magnet for all the darker forces of globalization," he said. "Those kinds of places attract terrorist networks."

Gregory Michaelidis of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development called Kolbe "a real hero" when it comes to helping poor countries grow their way out of poverty.

And Richard Feachem, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, calls Kolbe the personification of American assistance to the world. "He understands that the United States can really make a difference," Feachem said.

Such praise is not unexpected from agencies and groups that depend on Kolbe's subcommittee for funding. Indeed, the town-hall meetings Kolbe has been hosting all month would look more like campaign rallies if they were attended by representatives of the aid organizations with which he regularly interacts.

But not everyone is satisfied. Adam Isacson, a senior associate with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for International Policy, criticized Kolbe as "a very inflexible character" who "gets his instructions from the Bush administration and the House leadership."

In the Senate, Isacson said, foreign-aid bills have money set aside for nonmilitary aid. "The House has almost nothing, and that's Jim Kolbe's doing."

"I was born for this job"

Inevitably, any political figure who controls billions of dollars also benefits from the only thing that matters more in Washington than money: clout.

For Kolbe, that translates into having a significant say in how America deals with the world.

"I just love it," he said. "I was born for this job. I shouldn't say that, but I've just found my place."

Kolbe considers foreign aid an "absolutely essential part" of U.S. national security policy. His position allows him to make sure the legislation that comes out of his subcommittee reflects that philosophy.

"I have had generals in Iraq and Afghanistan say to me that every dollar they get from the foreign assistance account that allows them to paint a school or fix up a clinic is every bit as important as the dollar they get to feed the troops or buy them bullets," he said.

Evidence of Kolbe's influence can also be found in his oversight of how money is spent. Long a critic of the reconstruction effort in Iraq, Kolbe said in a recent interview that he continues to be frustrated by what he sees as mistakes that have been made.

"I'm not satisfied with what we're doing there," he said. "There's just a lot of waste and misuse of funds."

The spending bills that emerge from Kolbe's subcommittee aren't his alone. He collaborates closely with Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, a Bronx-born grandmother who is the subcommittee's ranking Democrat. In a Washington driven by sharp partisan distinctions, their relationship is marked by mutual respect and admiration.

"What is so very striking about Jim is that he's so willing to consider the ideas of others," said Lowey.

Kolbe called their work one of the last vestiges of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. "And it's proof that it can be done, by God."

Graf to challenge him again

As Kolbe heads into another election year, it might not be Democrats but fellow Republicans who pose his greatest challenge.

Former state lawmaker Randy Graf challenged Kolbe in 2004 and will do so again in 2006. The amount of time Kolbe spends on foreign- aid issues is sure to come up.

"It's a job somebody in Congress has to do, I guess," Graf said. "But I know a lot of constituents would rather see him spend more time in the district on things like protecting our border."

Although foreign aid is hardly, if ever, mentioned at his town halls, Kolbe believes there now is more of an appreciation for how helping other countries ultimately helps the United States.

"You always used to get the question at a town hall, 'Why are we spending all of this money overseas?' But since 9/11, there really is a much better understanding by the American people of the relationship of foreign assistance to national security.

"People understand that what we're spending overseas directly relates to the war on terrorism," Kolbe said.

Kolbe and the cardinals

* No one actually calls him Cardinal Kolbe. But that's the reverential nickname tradition gives to Jim Kolbe and only nine other members of Congress.

All serve on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the collection of 37 Republicans and 29 Democrats that controls billions of U.S. tax dollars. But "cardinals" enjoy enhanced influence by virtue of their position as chairmen of 10 appropriations subcommittees.

"They hold the keys to the federal government's piggy bank," says FreedomWorks, a conservative group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Given their exalted position, it's no surprise that most "cardinals" are political veterans who know their way around Washington. Their average age is 66 and their average length of service in the House is 22 years.

Kolbe's subcommittee funds most foreign aid, as well as the Peace Corps, development banks, the Child Survival and Disease Programs Fund, the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund and the State Department's international narcotics interdiction and counterterrorism efforts.

Hot spots

* As chairman of the House panel that oversees foreign aid, Rep. Jim Kolbe is in a position to foresee many possible international crises that could require U.S. attention. They include:

*A possible explosion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia and India.

*Continued food shortages in places like Sudan and Niger.

*National security threats that could arise out of political instability in West Africa.

*Interference by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Latin America.

*Tenuous relations between China and Taiwan.

*The nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

* Contact reporter C.J. Karamargin at 573-4243 or at

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Story Source: Arizona Daily Star

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; Congress; Appropriations


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