WASHINGTON — The Soviet Union was the Cold War threat, Ian Fleming's creation James Bond was headed to the screen as Sean Connery in "Dr. No" and the U.S. established a new system for doling out foreign aid.
Fifty-one years later, a leading House Democrat closing out three decades in Congress says a new structure to provide U.S. assistance worldwide is long overdue, and he has a plan.
California Rep. Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, unveiled a 923-page bill on Wednesday that would replace the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 with a framework for providing developmental and economic U.S. aid. Berman's Global Partnerships Act of 2012 would change the aid system to focus on mutually agreed goals instead of the emphasis on donor-recipient ties, increase accountability and oversight, and eliminate duplication.
It also would repeal 1961 provisions like the one that limits aid to countries "controlled by the international communist conspiracy."
Berman, who lost his re-election bid last month, said he didn't expect Congress to act on the measure in the closing days of the session, but hoped it would be a starting point in a future debate about foreign aid. He said he had spoken to his replacement on the committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and the panel's next chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., about the legislation.
At a sometimes humorous Capitol Hill news conference, Berman made the case for the measure, offering up a top 12 list of reasons to coincide with the date — 12-12-12. He also jokingly apologized to late-night talk-show host David Letterman, famed for his top 10 lists.
One reason, Berman said, is "because if James Bond can adapt to the post-Cold War era, so can foreign aid." Another was "is there anyone who thinks that foreign aid is just fine the way it is?"
And in a bit of self-deprecation, Berman joked that his staff members needed something to put on their resumes "and so do I."
In a separate session with reporters, Berman said people were losing confidence in foreign aid, which accounts for about 1 percent of the federal budget or about $50 billion a year for the State Department and other international programs. He also said Congress is often driven by the latest crisis and the legislation would give lawmakers and the Obama administration a chance to step back and rethink the system.
"This is a chance to do something bigger," Berman said. "I hope it doesn't go in a dustbin."
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