An Off-the-Record No Grade Congress on Global Affairs

An Empty Senate Chamber

With the new year beginning, this is the time when GlobalSolutions.org would normally prepare our Congressional Report Card to rate members of Congress on global issue.  The CGS Report Card analyzes voting records on issues ranging from genocide prevention to nuclear nonproliferation to funding for the international affairs budget.

But this year, we've come to the sad conclusion that there isn't going to be a Report Card.  Why not?  Because Congress didn't do enough on record last year to warrant one. In order to create a Report Card, we needed at least ten roll call votes that matter to us to be able to fairly judge members' records on international affairs issues.  Neither the House nor the Senate came close to that threshold.

Yes, there was some good news out of the legislative branch last year-in the lame-duck session before Christmas, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to ratify the New START nuclear weapons treaty, which was a major priority for CGS.  The Senate also unanimously approved S. Con. Res. 71, a genocide prevention resolution that we have championed.   But the State Department/Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which usually is a treasure trove of roll call votes, never came up.  The Defense Authorization, a great source of votes on military spending and global engagement, was passed by unanimous consent.  No roll call vote was taken last year on climate change, genocide, human rights, UN reform, global finance, or any of the other major global challenges .  Nada.

But even when good legislation was enacted-for example, providing adequate U.S. funding for the United Nations, or the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which charged the White House with coming up with a plan to address the problem of the LRA in Uganda--these bills were often approved by voice vote or unanimous consent, not by roll call votes where each member of Congress must cast a vote.  In previous years, Congress was far more active on the international front, as evidenced by the many roll call votes CGS staff had to choose from when selecting votes for earlier Report Cards.  For example, in 2009, the House and Senate voted on bills including foreign affairs funding, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, and humanitarian issues.

Of course, 2010 was an election year, when congressional productivity is often lower than usual; and given the current state of the economy, much of Congress's focus was understandably on domestic issues.  However, Congress also has a duty to address the United States' relationship with the world beyond its borders.  The ratification of the relatively modest New START treaty, which should have been an easy sell given the support of the defense community's experts and elder statesmen, instead became tangled up in partisan politics and the approval process dragged on for most of the year.

Meanwhile, other important treaties supported by CGS, such as the CEDAW women's rights treaty and Law of the Sea, never came close to getting a vote.  In the House, plenty of post offices were named, but members voted on virtually no issues of international importance.  And the one thing Congress is supposed to do every year-pass a budget to keep the government, including the State Department and other international affairs agencies, funded appropriately in the new fiscal year -- failed to happen yet again. 

The Obama administration has illustrated that it understands the importance of international issues, from its tireless work to negotiate and win ratification of the New START treaty to its efforts to prevent violence and mass atrocities in Sudan.  Congress must now step up to the plate as well.

So for all these reasons, there will be no 2011 CGS Congressional Report Card.  We sincerely hope that this time next year, we will be able to look back on a first session of the 112th Congress which has been productive enough to yield us a surplus of international votes to choose from when compiling the 2012 CRC...but Congress will have to get its act together first. We will certainly urge our lawmakers to call for roll calls on these important issues.  I hope you do to.

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