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Chairman GILMAN. The gentleman is correct. The Committee will come to order. Members will take their seats. We have a number of bills that are awaiting consideration; and, with cooperation, we will get through them in a hurry.
In addition, the bill authorizes the transfer of two naval vessels to Chile and provides authority to the President to convert existing leases for 10 ships which have already been transferred to Brazil, to Greece and to Turkey. I am pleased to note that we have successfully enacted into law over the past 4 years each of our bills addressing security assistance matters. I hope we are able to continue our record with this measure.
I recognize the gentleman from Connecticut, our Ranking Minority Member, Mr. Gejdenson.
Mr. GEJDENSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the Chairman's cooperation on agreeing to some adjustments to the original language which will facilitate our national interest and our interest in cooperating with some of our most important allies like the United Kingdom and Australia. The improvements in the legislation make this a good bill. I support the Chairman's efforts.
Chairman GILMAN. Thank you, Mr. Gejdenson.
Mr. ROHRABACHER. I thank the Chairman for his leadership in crafting the Defense and Security Assistance Act of 2000, which authorizes the transfer of excessive military equipment and naval vessels to allied nations. I am grateful that my proposed amendment on providing assistance to our democratic ally in the Pacific, the Republic of the Philippines, has been incorporated into the bill as section 105.
The Philippines, which lacks a credible air force or a navy and where 60 percent of its soldiers and their families live under the poverty line, has been handicapped by inadequate funds to modernize its armed forces. In recent months, a guerrilla war and terrorist campaign backed by international terrorists, for instance, Mr. bin Laden, has been a tremendous strain on Philippine security forces.
At the same time as counterinsurgency casualties are mounting in the southern part of the Philippines, Communist China has continued building its forces in Philippine territorial waters in the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands and in other places and also in, specifically, Mischief Reef
Section 105 authorizes the U.S. Government to work with the government of the Philippines to procure military equipment that can upgrade the capabilities and improve the quality of life of the armed forces of the Philippines. The equipment includes naval vessels; amphibious landing craft; F-5 aircraft and aircraft that can be used for reconnaissance, search and air rescue and supply; helicopters; vehicles and other personnel equipment.
This bill is essential to transfer defensive equipment no longer used by our forces to assist America's allies around the world to have the means to defend themselves from terrorism and aggression. I am suggesting that what we are doing here for the Philippines fits right into that. The Philippines is struggling to have a democracy. They are committed to free press and to the other values of our society. We should try to help them out.
Lord only knows that we are offering loans to people who are investing in dictatorships like Vietnam or Communist China. The least we can do is try to help the Philippines with surplus military equipment so they can defend themselves against subversion and aggression. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chairman GILMAN. Thank you, Mr. Rohrabacher. Is any other Member seeking recognition on this measure?
If there is no other Member seeking recognition, the gentleman from Nebraska, Mr. Bereuter, is recognized to offer a motion.
Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Chairman, I move that after the introduction of the pending bill the Chairman be requested to seek consideration of the bill on the suspension calendar.
Chairman GILMAN. The question is now on the motion of the gentleman from Nebraska. Those in favor of the motion signify by saying “aye.” Those opposed, say “no.”
The ayes have it. The motion is agreed to. Further proceedings on this measure are postponed.
H.R. 3673_UNITED STATES-PANAMA PARTNERSHIP ACT OF 2000
We will now consider H.R. 3673, relating to benefits for the Panama Canal. The Chair lays the bill before the Committee. The clerk will report the title of the bill.
Ms. BLOOMER. H.R. 3673, a bill to provide certain benefits to Panama if Panama agrees to permit the United States to maintain a presence there sufficient to carry out counternarcotics and related missions.
Chairman GILMAN. This bill was introduced on February 16, 2000, referred by the Speaker to this Committee, in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means, and in each case for the consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.
Without objection, the first reading of the bill is dispensed with. The clerk will read the bill for amendment.
Ms. BLOOMER. Be it enacted by
Chairman GILMAN. Without objection, the bill is considered as having been read and is open for amendment at any point.
I recognize myself briefly in support of the bill.
I first introduced the United States-Panama Partnership Act in October 1998 with a bipartisan list of distinguished sponsors, including not only many of our Republican colleagues but also the distinguished Ranking Member of our Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade, Mr. Menendez, and the distinguished Ranking Member of the Committee on Ways and Means, Mr. Rangel
We introduced this legislation because Panama and the United States stand at a crossroads in the special relationship between our two peoples that dates back nearly 100 years. At the dawn of the new century, our two nations must decide whether to permit this special relationship to die or to renew and reinvigorate it for the This legislation offers Panama the benefits of closer relations with the United States. In exchange for such benefits, it asks Panama to remain our partner in the war on drugs by agreeing to a U.S. presence, alone or in conjunction with other nations, sufficient to carry out vital counternarcotics and related missions. Our nation has a critical need for access to some of the facilities that we had in Panama up until the end of last year.
General Wilhelm, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, recently admitted to Congress that today our nation has only one-third of the capability to interdict narcotics smuggled into the United States that we had before we lost access to our facilities in Panama.
I am only aware of two potential objections to this legislation. The first is that Panama may not be interested in the kind of relationship that we are offering. None of us know for sure whether or not Panama would be interested because our nation has never before seriously offered such a relationship to Panama.
Public opinion surveys in Panama have consistently shown that 70 percent of the Panamanian people would like there to be a continued U.S. presence in Panama. But, more importantly, this legislation does not seek to force Panama to enter into any such relationship. It does not even force the President to offer such a relationship. It merely authorizes the President to make such an offer. If the President decides to make such an offer, Panama will be free to accept or reject it.
I believe that, if we pass this legislation, we can significantly reduce the flow of drugs into our own nation. If I am wrong about that, then the worst that can be said about passing this bill is that we may have wasted our Committee's time. That is a risk I am prepared to run, given the significant possible rewards our nation would reap if we are right and the skeptics are wrong.
The second potential objection to this bill is that it is another trade giveaway. I am very sensitive to that concern. That is why I vote against most free trade measures such as NAFTA and fast track authority.
But this bill is not a trade giveaway. For the first time ever, this bill asks for something in return for enhanced access to our U.S. market. What we will get in return is that the facilities we need to interdict the flow of drugs into the United States will be adopted. This bill can save and will save American lives if adopted.
In addition, I would remind our Members that the trade-related portions of the bill, sections 4(e), 5 and 6, are not technically before our Committee. Those parts of the bill are referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, and we do not have jurisdiction to report or amend it. The Ways and Means Committee will consider those portions of the bill later on, and when we vote today we will be voting only on whether to report the other nontrade-related portions of the bill. I invite our colleagues to support H.R. 3673.
I would be pleased to yield to the gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Gejdenson.
Mr. GEJDENSON. Mr. Chairman, I might start by asking the Administration what concerns they have about this legislation. My understanding is that there are some discussions going on. To enter into the negotiations with an offer that this Committee doesn't have the jurisdiction to provide, and that Members may not understand the magnitude of, is questionable. When you do free trade agreements, what happens if the Chinese, for instance, decide to use Panama as a transshipment zone. The fact that clothing is boxed in Panama, does a free trade agreement mean that anything made in China that gets handled for a moment in Panama becomes a Panamanian product that can enter America's market?
So it is not so simple as the Chairman would have us believe, that by passing this resolution we will end the travel of drugs to the United States and reengage the Panamanians in a positive relationship, ignoring some of the recent past. Most experts tell us, maybe we ought to leave Panama alone for a little while to get over the previous relationship so that we can develop a new one.
I would like to hear from the Administration first.
Ms. Cooks. I am Shirley Cooks from the Bureau of Legislative Affairs at the State Department. With your permission, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Gejdenson, I would like to ask my colleagues to answer your question.
Chairman GILMAN. They should be identified as well.
Mr. BENSON. I am James Benson, Desk Officer for Panama, Department of State. I will just address the points on the move to discuss with the Government of Panama this sort of arrangement.
I think our view, from our conversations with senior Panamanian officials, is that there is no interest on the part of the Government of Panama in discussing anything that even approaches a reopening of former U.S. facilities there. In fact, Ambassador Ford, the Panamanian Ambassador to the United States, speaking in the Chambers of this Committee 2 weeks ago at an Atlantic Councilsponsored event, was emphatic in saying that the Government of Panama will not discuss the stationing of any U.S. forces in Panama in the future.
Therefore, sir, in response to your question on what we think about the possibility of such discussions with the Panamanians, our view is that they really stand no chance.
I would pass to my colleague on the economic side.
Mr. MANOGUE. Yes, sir. I am Bob Manogue. I am in the Economic Section of the State Department. I work on trade matters.
Inasmuch as this section of the bill would be taken up on the House Ways and Means Committee, that would probably be the appropriate place to discuss the technical aspects of the trade portion. But many of these provisions have been already provided in the CBI enhancement bill which was signed into law on May 17.
The major concern which the House Ways and Means and the Administration would have would be the transshipment of Chinese goods through Panama. There is a history of transshipment through Panama of Chinese goods. This bill in certain sections would give the Customs and Commerce Department pause on the viability of those shipments moving through Panama.
Mr. GEJDENSON. Mr. Chairman, I would hope that possibly the would have a discussion with the folks in Ways and Means whether there is any realistic option of developing a free trade agreement with the Panamanians that would protect American workers, protect Americans' interest in having fair trade with Panamanians, and also to understand whether or not we are being helpful in dealing with the Panamanians.
If the Panamanians are sitting there expressing their noninterest and the U.S. Congress keeps kind of upping the ante of what we will give them to please let us back in, they think that their assets are more valuable than they are, and the only thing this Committee's actions may actually do is make it more difficult to come to an agreement with the Panamanians.
I hope the Chairman maybe holds this bill over. We can have some discussions. Maybe there is some way we can come to something productive. But I just think sending a bill that is going to languish in Ways and Means to create free trade may make us feel good but doesn't really accomplish that.
We don't really end up fighting drugs. We may make it more difficult to get the Panamanians to actually be supportive of an American presence, thereby creating the misimpression that we are willing to give them just about everything or anything in order to have the possibility of an American presence there. Mr. Chairman, I hope maybe you would consider we could put this off. Maybe we could find a way to do something. My sense is we can pass this out of Committee. We are not going to accomplish anything. I don't think that is the Chairman's desire. Maybe we would be better off waiting a bit.
Chairman GILMAN. Thank you, Mr. Gejdenson.
Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Chairman, I think that some of these arguments that are being presented against your bill are nonsense just total nonsense. Just as the testimony from our State Department was nonsense. We have a State Department that has been undermining America's real position, that we would like to have some troops down there because there is a real security threat in Panama, and this Administration has sent signals under the table and behind the curtain and at social events to the new Panamanian Government that this government really doesn't want troops down there. That may not be what the official position is of our government, but that is the message that the Panamanian Government has received from the Clinton-Gore Administration.
This Administration was negotiating for some type of American presence for months, and they got nowhere, even though polls indicate that 80 percent of the Panamanian people want some type of American military presence in Panama. This Administration is practicing wink diplomacy. That is, they state a position for the American people because they know how untenable their real positions are, and then they go to these other governments and they wink as they are saying that position and behind the scenes tell them what their real position is. Nowhere is that more clear than Panama.
While I was in Panama and talked to the people down there, it was evident how much the Panamanian people depend on the United States, appreciate the United States and want the United