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US Congress: The scalp-hunters of Capitol Hill

A handful of US congressmen have the IMF and World Bank at their mercy. When it comes to fresh capital or even the subject of US withdrawal, these are the guys who have the casting vote, with a mind to their own re-election. Some, like congressman Sonny Callahan, chairman of the House foreign operations committee, are more supportive than others, who'd prefer the IMF to be shut down and the third world left to market forces. The US Treasury and others with a less parochial view have to tread tortuous paths through Senate and House committees to push through the administration's foreign policy. The multilateral institutions have hung back from lobbying on Capitol Hill, but one day it could be a matter of survival. Brian Caplen reports.

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Sonny Callahan, a small businessman from Mobile in Alabama, is not a name that means much to the coterie of finance ministers, bankers and bureaucrats converging on Washington for this year's annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank. But the omission of Callahan's name from the "must-see" lists of highly influential people could be a costly mistake.

Callahan, a Republican congressman, has more power over US policy towards the multilaterals and US foreign aid than either president Bill Clinton or secretary of state Madelaine Albright. It may be Clinton and Albright who travel the world, meet government leaders, exchange views about big intellectual ideas and promise billions of dollars in assistance. But it is 67-year-old Callahan, a down-to-earth southerner and a self-confessed "first grader" in the realm of international finance, who signs the cheque.

 
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Callahan is chairman of the US House of Representatives' subcommittee on foreign operations, export financing and related programmes, one of 13 sub-committees making up the all-powerful House appropriations committee.