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by Michael Doyle Bee Washington Bureau
Fresno Bee (California)
June 9, 2006 Friday Final Edition

Republican leaders are refusing to allow an Armenian genocide resolution to reach the House floor, where it almost certainly would pass.

The Capitol Hill blockade frustrates Armenian-American activists, including several in the San Joaquin Valley.

"The GOP leadership objections reflect the Bush administration's policy of supporting Turkey," Barlow Der Mugrdechian, lecturer in Armenian studies at California State University, Fresno, said Thursday.

House "Speaker [Dennis] Hastert's refusal to schedule a vote is an affront to supporters of the resolution."
Without leadership go-ahead, the genocide resolution approved overwhelmingly 10 months ago by the House International Relations Committee will remain dormant.
But as House action Thursday showed, Armenia's congressional allies, too, will sometimes steer clear of a House fight.

In a telling political decision, lawmakers decided not to press Thursday for an amendment liked by Armenian-Americans but loathed by the White House and the Turkish government. Discretion, in this case, may have been the better part of political valor.

"We're operating under a tough scenario right now," said Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. "There's not a lot that's likely to change the administration's mind."

The latest maneuvering over Armenian politics involves the $21.3 billion foreign operations bill considered Thursday by the House.

Despite its foreign focus, it is a bill that also targets domestic constituencies.

The bill, for instance, urges the Bush administration to accept the California State University's proposal for providing overseas agricultural training.

The bill likewise promotes the University of California's affiliation with the American University of Armenia.

Various politically favored nations are boosted, from more than $2.3 billion in aid provided Israel to a special visa program aiding Ireland. The targeting helps sustain votes for foreign aid, which historically can be a hard political sell.

"This is moving forward with strong, bipartisan support," noted Rep.
David Dreier, R-Covina, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Armenia fares particularly well.

The bill provides $62 million in economic aid to the country of 2.9 million residents. Though a decrease from last year's $75 million, this still is more per person than most any other country. The U.S. aid amounts to about 20 cents for every Armenian.
For neighboring Mexico, U.S. aid amounts to less than a penny per resident.

"As long as Armenia suffers from blockades, continued and robust U.S. assistance will be required," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D.-N.J. Pallone is co-chairman of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, which now claims
140 members. For lawmakers from the San Joaquin Valley, home to tens of thousands of Armenian-Americans, caucus membership is expected.

Democratic Reps. Dennis Cardoza of Merced and Jim Costa of Fresno are Armenian caucus members, as are Republicans including Radanovich and Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia.

Periodically, Armenian caucus members use the foreign aid bill to chastise Turkey, Armenia's historical antagonist. A decade ago, for instance, Radanovich won House approval of an amendment limiting aid
to Turkey unless the country conceded the Armenian population was the target of genocide between 1915 and 1923.

Congressional negotiators later dropped the provision, as they have dropped similar provisions in the past.

This history was revived this week, as lawmakers and Armenian-American organizations weighed whether to bring up another Armenian-related amendment -- for instance, language punitively targeting Turkey's
lobbying expenditures.

Ultimately, lawmakers and staffers feared they might lose any strongly worded amendment. They would face opposition both from Republican leaders and the Bush administration, as well as members of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, who don't like their spending bills tinkered with.

Even if the House passed an amendment, moreover, congressional staffers calculated it would simply be stripped out in the House and Senate negotiations, and Radanovich said Republicans didn't want to put President Bush in the position of making that call to Congress.

The question -- ultimately answered in the negative -- then became whether to pursue a politically difficult vote for the sake of a short-term symbolic victory.

Elizabeth Chouldjian, spokeswoman for the Armenian National Committee of America, downplayed the significance of the decision and stressed that "there are tons of different options" for taking up important legislation later.

"These efforts are closely watched," Der Mugrdechian said.
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