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Sequestration and International Affairs: What's the Deal?

We've all heard about sequestration, a mandatory cutting of federal expenditures on apocalyptic levels if a budget deal is not struck in Congress before the New Year.  However, does anyone really know what it will mean for international affairs budgeting if sequestration takes effect?

The short answer is: it doesn't look good.

To begin, let's run through what would happen on the macro level if sequestration kicks in.  If sequestration is not avoided, the Office of Management and Budget will cancel $110 billion in spending for fiscal year 2013, with a grand total of $1.2 trillion in savings through fiscal year 2021.  The amount of money saved by sequestration will be split 50/50 between Defense programs and non-Defense programs, with Social Security, Medicaid, and the majority of Medicare escaping unscathed.

Using fiscal year 2013 as a model and assuming percentage cuts between seven and ten percent, that would mean that Defense spending would drop by $55 billion and non-Defense discretionary spending would be cut, again, by $55 billion, which includes the International Affairs Budget.

What does this mean for the International Affairs Budget?  If everything goes according to projections, the post-sequestration International Affairs budget in fiscal year 2013 would be approximately $47.7 billion.  This total is $7.2 billion less than the fiscal year 2012 enacted amount ($54.9 bn) and $8.7 billion less than the fiscal year 2013 request ($56.2 bn).  What does this kind of cut mean in terms of what will be impacted?  The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a network of experts, businesses, and NGOs, has put together a fantastic little chart on what some of the cuts would be:

Give the Disabled a Global Fair Break

The Senate is on the verge of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This could be amazing! The Senate has not been able to push through a multilateral treaty since the Chemical Weapons convention in 1997.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that current U.S. laws protecting the disabled are the “gold standard” for such initiatives worldwide. He said that the treaty would “take that gold standard and extend it to countries that have never heard of disability rights.”

126 nations have already ratified the CRPD, improving the lives of over 1 billion people living with disabilities. Over 80% of the world’s disabled population lives in developing countries where the treaty would have the greatest impact. U.S. ratification of the treaty will not only maintain our essential leadership on disability issues internationally but allow us to play a key role in forming the legislation and policies that will ensure the equality and inclusion of all people with disabilities worldwide.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the CRPD in July by a vote of 13-6, with both Democrats and Republicans supporting U.S. ascension to the treaty. In addition to every major disability and veteran’s organization, the treaty is also supported by the United States Chamber of Commerce and key leaders in America’s historic bipartisan disability rights movement, including Senator Bob Dole and President George H.W. Bush.

Repubican Senator John McCain said yesterday that, "Regardless of where in the world a disabled person strives to live a normal, independent life, where basic rights and accessibilities are available, disability rights and protections have always been a bipartisan issue. Ratifying this treaty should be no different"

Responsible Leadership in Maine and Indiana

The evidence supporting America’s mandate for responsible leadership in Washington grows.  With the support of the Global Solutions PAC, Angus King and Joe Donnelly won their elections and now join the ranks of responsible leaders in Washington.

In the state of Maine, Independent Angus King handedly took the open Senate seat, defeating Republican Charlie Summers by over 150,000 votes and Democrat Cynthia Dill by over 275,000 votes.  On the topic of foreign policy, Angus King knows what is at stake and possesses the right mindset to tackle the issues.  

Concerning multilateral engagement, King said that, “The United States has a strong heritage of multilateral action on important global issues, and should continue as a collaborative leader in world affairs.”  This commitment to cooperation shows that we have a representative that will work on the important international issues in the most effective way.  King has also voiced his support for the ICC in situations where a fair and codified court may not be available, as well as his approval of ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  These convictions show that King is a leader that will do what is right, regardless of what is popular or easy.

Shifting to Indiana, we see another example of a leader with the right stuff getting into the Senate.  Joe Donnelly edged out the infamous Richard Mourdock by 139,000 votes.  On the issues, Donnelly’s record speaks for itself; during his tenure in the House of Representatives, Donnelly earned an “A” in our 2008 report card and a “B-“ on our 2010 report card.  On the topic of US involvement in the UN, Donnelly has said that he supports future involvement in the UN as well as the fulfillment of our promises including funding and personnel commitments when they are made. 

Victory in Montana and New Mexico

Keeping with the theme of voters selecting leaders that champion smart American foreign policy, we have two more races that highlight the frighteningly stark differences between two different worldviews. As with the previous post, these are officials that were supported by the Global Solutions PAC that won their elections.

We will begin with the Montana Senatorial race, where incumbent Jon Tester bested Dennis Rehberg in that race. Tester has a proven track record as a champion of American involvement globally, including votes in favor of addressing climate change, the New START Treaty, and the preservation of foreign aid funding. During his time as Senator, Tester has earned two "A-" grades on our report card in 2010 and 2012. On the other end of the spectrum, Rehberg's lack of support for international nuclear regulation, initiatives to address climate change, and proper funding to the UN earned him a "D-" in 2010 and a "D" in 2012.

Another example of this shift to responsible leaders occurred in New Mexico's election for their next Senator. Ultimately, Martin Heinrich beat Heather Wilson by more than 40,000 votes. The evolution of Heather Wilson's foreign policy stances is an interesting phenomenon to watch. According to our 2004 report card, Wilson earned a "44" due to her voting against issues such as women's rights and US involvement in the ICC. However, in 2005, Wilson jumped to a respectable "B+" as a result of her support for UN funding as well as action in Darfur. From 2006 to 2008, she slid to a "C+" and maintained that grade due to her lack of support for nuclear regulation, US involvement in the ICC, and the rights of foreign combatants.

A Global Focus on Election 2012

With the final ballots cast and the winners and losers decided, it is clear that the people of this nation demand leaders that will address global issues in a realistic way. Because of the overwhelming results of this election, we thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at some of the more prominent winners that realize the importance of an engaged foreign policy strategy. These are leaders that Global Solutions PAC supported throughout the election.

Virginia's Senatorial race was a victory for those that champion American involvement in the international community. Winning 52.4% of the vote, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine edged out Republican candidate George Allen who garnered 47.6%. Allen's history in the US Senate gives us a clear view of his stances on foreign policy. Without fail, he voted against legislation that would have helped to address climate change, increasing funding for the global AIDS prevention services, and US involvement in the ICC. Consequentially, Allen earned a "0" (equivalent of an 'F') in 2004, a "D" in 2005, and a "D" in 2006.

On the other hand, Tim Kaine has pledged to support legislation that would prevent genocide in partnership with other countries, as well as US participation in the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, Kaine has stated that he supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, as well as the basic aim of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Looking at Florida's Senate race, Bill Nelson's reelection as Florida's Senator by a margin of over one million votes is a prime example of this call for responsible leadership. Nelson's support of legislation and initiatives such as the New START Treaty, clean technology investment, as well as captured foreign combatant rights shows that he gets the picture. In fact, Nelson's record in Congress earned him an "A" on our Congressional Report Card this year.

Foreign Policy Wisdom for the Next Four Years

President Obama at the UN

"We believe that 'We're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'You're on your own'.'' That's how Bill Clinton summed up the philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans when he nominated President Barack Obama to run and eventually win a second term. It's also the philosophy that underpins the work of the Connect U.S. Fund. For the last eight years they have brought together a community of advocacy and grassroots groups, philanthropic foundations, and think tanks to push for farsighted American leadership in efforts to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world. They have just released a letter to President Obama and his transition team signed by over 180 foreign policy leaders, who represent millions of Americans, and came together to develop proposals to enhance U.S. global leadership and cooperation in this new presidential term. As one of its signatories, I'm excited by the detailed recommendations which lay out a blueprint for constructive and achievable U.S. actions across four key areas: human rights, climate change, nuclear weapons, and development. The letter urges the President to take action to:

Women Win Election 2012

The 113th Congress of the United States will have 20 women Senators—the most women to serve in United States history.

The United States sent a message on Tuesday night's election: women's human rights are not to be threatened. This message was loud and clear when the country elected a record-breaking number of women to Senate. The 113th Congress of the United States will have 20 women Senators---the most women to serve in United States history. Ever.

I hope you're not wondering what could have set this precedent but if you are, let's recap:

Representative Todd Akin, who was running for Claire McCaskill's Missouri Senate Seat made his "legitimate rape" comment, explaining how the female body has "ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Richard Mourdock, running for Senate in Indiana spoke for God when he declared that when a woman gets pregnant from a rape, it "is something God intended." There were scores more of men who made similar statements.

State Representative Roger Rivard lost re-election in Wisconsin when he declared, "consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry [...] some girls, they rape so easy."

Sadly, there are a more comments like these, which you can read here.

All these men, who apparently have some divine knowledge that the rest of us do not, were either denied re-election or lost their races on Tuesday's election. The surge of women elected to Senate and the defeat of these men who made such high-profile and disgusting statements show one thing: the threat against women's human rights is real, and thankfully, our democracy allows us to defend these rights.

We Won & The World Wins!

Election night celebration, November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois
Thank you! With your help, the Global Solutions PAC and the world had an awesome victory yesterday. 43 out of 59 endorsed House and Senate candidates won their races yesterday. In 70% of the races where you helped us raise over $41,000 dollars to financially support candidates, you won.

Foreign Policy Platforms - Two World Views

Bill Clinton's masterful speech to nominate Barack Obama summed up the philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans saying, "We believe that 'We're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'You're on your own'.'' It's clear that these divergent views extend to the two parties' take on the rest of the world.

My colleague Andrew Hess has pulled together a great side by side comparison of the Ds and Rs platforms on Energy, the Environment, and Foreign Policy. There is a clear difference between the two that will impact our nation's role in an increasingly multi-polar interdependent world.

Democrats stress international cooperation, saying that "The greatest dangers we face--terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber and biological attacks, climate change, and transnational crime--cannot be solved by any one nation alone. Addressing these challenges requires broad and effective global cooperation."

They support ratification of treaties to limit nuclear testing, limit nuclear proliferation and support the rights of women globally. The want the US to lead efforts to "to set emission limits" on greenhouse gasses. They "are committed to modernizing [the United Nations] infrastructure for the 21st century--working to reform international bodies and strengthen national and multilateral capabilities to advance peace, security, and opportunity."

A Farewell Note to Global Solutions PAC

Election 2012

For the past two and a half years, a big part of my job at Global Solutions has involved managing the work of our political action committee, Global Solutions PAC.  I've met with congressional candidates from around the country, listened to their views on foreign policy, recommended endorsements and contributions to their campaigns, and attended fundraisers to show our support.  It's been a great experience, and one that has taught me quite a lot. 

Now, as I prepare to leave Global Solutions and embrace new opportunities, I look back on my time here and have a few thoughts and memories I'd like to share with you.

It doesn't take a genius or political pundit to know that most Americans are not primarily focused on foreign policy this year as they decide which candidates they want to send to the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives.  Most voters, understandably, are more focused on jobs and the economy.  However, there is plenty of evidence that voters do want to see a U.S. foreign policy that remains engaged outside our borders and works with allies and international institutions to build a better world.  For example, according to a recent survey by the Better World Campaign:

  • More than 80 percent of Americans support the U.S. playing an active role in the U.N.
  • 75 percent of Americans support funding for U.N. peacekeeping
  • 64 percent want the U.S. to pay its U.N. dues on time and in full 

These numbers shouldn't be forgotten by those who aspire to hold political office in our country.  Americans do care about what happens in the world, and about the role the U.S. plays in it.