Congress Looks Set to Approve Merida Aid to Mexico

A Bush administration lobbying effort to stave off congressional opposition to the Merida initiative, counternarcotics aid to Mexico, appears to have been successful, as the money has made it into versions of an Iraq and Afghanistan war supplemental approved this week by the House and Senate approproations committees.

As the Politico reported May 8, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made calls to lawmakers last week in an attempt to stave off cuts to the $500 million the Bush administration had requested for this year.

Lawmakers objections to the Merida funding ranged from the procedural to the substantive. Some lawmakers objected to the administration’s tactic of seeking to include the money in the war supplemental bill, saying it didn’t belong there, especially because authorization for the money had not yet been approved by the foreign affairs committees in both houses.

However, the House Foreign Affairs Committee provided a boon to the administration’s case this week when Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) announced that he had introduced legislation to authorize $1.6 billion over three years for Merida.

As for the substantive objections to the funding, Democrats tended to object to the funding’s focus on hardware, and have attempted to shift funding toward economic support programs, and sought greater guarantees that Mexican law enforcement would not use the money to abuse human rights. Republican objections to the aid, meanwhile, tended to focus on efforts to secure more funding for U.S. border control as a quid pro quo for sending money south. The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, for example, that Texas Republicans in the House and Senate were leading a charge to either cut the funding totally or divert significant amounts of it to U.S. border control efforts.

Joining the administration in lobbying for the Merida money, meanwhile, were supporters like Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan, who wrote a joint op-ed in the Politico on Thursday. In their op-ed, the two picked up on an argument that has been at the center of the Bush administration’s case, that “the initiative’s political potential is just as important as its impact on crime and drugs. It could lay the groundwork for deeper engagement between the two neighbors in a way that will collectively enhance the security of both nations.”

In the end, the Bush administration’s aggressive lobbying effort to save the Merida money seems to have largely paid off. Although it appears the Bush request of $500 million (or $560 million, depending on the source), was cut slightly, most of the money made it into both the House and Senate versions of the war supplemental bill that were reported out of committee this week. Although the Senate Appropriations Commitee’s fact sheet on the bill makes no mention of Merida, a commitee spokesman told World Politics Review this morning that the money is in fact part of the bill that will go to the Senate floor next week.

The House Appropriations Committee’s fact sheet, meanwhile, says the committee decided to provide $461.5 million for Merida, a cut of $88.5 million from the administration request.

Related from WPR:

Commentary:Focus on U.S.-Mexico Cooperation Ignores Differing Interests in the Drug War
News: As Violence Grows Along Border, Congres Debates Funding for Fighting Mexican Drug Cartels
News: ‘Merida Initiative’ Would Provide Funding for Counter-Drug Aid to Mexico, But Congress Remains Skeptical