The Global Citizen: Capitol Hill
On Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY12 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill. The vote brought funding for the U.N.’s regular budget and funding for 15 peacekeeping missions very close to what President Obama originally requested from Congress. Citizens for Global Solutions would like to thank the Senate for understanding the importance of funding international organizations like the U.N., unlike their friends in the House who aimed to slash this vital aid that affects our ability to accomplish our foreign policy goals and national security interests.
In July, when the House took up funding for international organizations and peacekeeping, it dramatically cut these budgets by 20%. This figure may not seem outrageous, but consider this: the entire foreign aid budget makes up less than 1% of the overall budget. As many advocates for the U.N. and international funding have pointed out before, the International Affairs Budget is not an efficient place to make a dramatic effect on the deficit. This move is unwise because it does not yield any meaningful economic savings, and also has substantial costs to United States leadership, prestige, and influence.
Think about it: Would any organization respect and give leadership roles to a board member who rarely paid their dues on time?
The White House Briefing and Training brought 50 people from 23 states to Washington DC to experience a day of briefings at the White House and a full day training at the Citizens for Global Solutions National Office. Everyone involved found the event exhilarating, useful and energizing to continue their activism after they left the nation's capitol.
One participant remarked: "I am honored to have been able to attend this event and feel it will definitely help me continue to lobby much more effectively, with more coverage and with a better understanding of the facts. Thank you. Also, a very diverse group - that is a big priority for me personally."
For many visiting the East Wing of the White House was a once in a lifetime experience: "The only place more impressive to have met would be the Oval Office!"
Citizens for Global Solutions partnered with Resolve for this event - bringing together people of different ages from different parts of the country to participate in the briefing with high level speakers at the White House, but also for the training the following day. People were able to learn from each other's experiences and insights. "It was a good idea to coordinate with Resolve. We can only win with collaboration with all interested parties."
August is usually a quiet time in Washington, but not this year for those who advocate in support of the United Nations. On August 30th, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011, a bill which threatens to undermine the United Nations by conditioning U.S. financial support on the U.N. meeting a number of reforms demanded by Republicans in Congress.
Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen timed her introduction of the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act to come right before the U.N. General Assembly session in September, when a vote on Palestinian statehood is expected to occur. In doing so, she hopes to capitalize on American support for Israel in order to push through an anti-U.N. agenda she has long championed (she introduced the same bill in the previous Congress, with a few changes).
The bottom line is, this bill is bad legislation. It attempts to hold hostage the U.S. commitment to the U.N. and the international community based on a single vote in the General Assembly. But voting on controversial international issues is what the U.N. is designed to do-settling conflicts through votes rather than through wars. For the U.S. to threaten to withdraw its support and fail to pay its dues to the U.N. based on the outcome of a single U.N. vote is simply wrong, counterproductive, and hurts our ability to lead.
In this difficult economic climate, there are days when trying to convince members of Congress of the value of international affairs funding can feel like an uphill struggle-to say the least. That's why, when a leader emerges to state the case for America staying engaged with the world and adequately funding our foreign affairs budget, it is very much appreciated by those of us who work toward this goal every day. On that note, I would like to heartily thank Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for his eloquent explanation of why strong funding for the international affairs budget remains critical, and how it benefits America.
On August 3rd, Senator Kerry published an op-ed in the Washington Post laying out the importance of robust funding for international affairs. He stated that:
"Energetic global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. It amplifies America's voice and extends our reach. In a world growing more not less interdependent, slashing foreign aid and development investments is a formula for isolation and shrinking influence. America can't opt out of a networked world."
Great nations should pay their bills. But in the last two weeks, House Republicans on two important panels voted on party lines to sharply decrease funding for international organizations, peacekeeping missions, and human rights, putting the United States back on the world community's "dead beat" list. In a climate of an increased national debt and a laundry list of transnational problems facing our nation, it is irresponsible to play politics and gamble with our foreign policy.
It's important to put costs into perspective. These members who voted to hold U.N. funding hostage say that we need to reduce spending across the board. Don't let their rhetoric fool you - we aren't dramatically cutting spending by reducing our U.N. contributions and funds for peacekeeping missions. The foreign aid budget consists of 1% of overall federal budget, and the U.N. budget is a small sliver of this amount. These cuts make as much sense as cutting my daughters allowance to pay down my mortgage.
As Melissa Kaplan wrote in her most recent blog post, “the madness continues…,” as UN funding was slashed in the House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday during the mark up of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The Foreign Relations Authorization Act (H.R. 2583) and State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill detract from U.S. diplomacy and development efforts by cutting UN funding and State Department funds for foreign assistance programs, as well as by strengthening the slew of restrictions that are attached to foreign aid and UN-designated dollars.
The madness continues….
Last week, I wrote a blog post decrying the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s (HFAC) shabby treatment of the United Nations as it passed, along party lines, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. This week brings another, even deeper congressional blow to the U.S. relationship with the UN, with the passage of the House appropriations bill to fund the State Department, which was approved by subcommittee this morning.
Some key things the bill does (or fails to do):
A guest blog post by Jessica Ziegler:
This past weekend I attended a training session for lobbyists, the first action of many that I have taken lately to become more politically active and socially conscious.
Having never participated in anything of this nature before, I arrived at the small meetinghouse early and fought down some feelings of moderate trepidation as I walked through the front door. I'd never been to that particular location and was worried that the subject matter might be over my head. Even worse, it was a Sunday afternoon, and I simply couldn't imagine that too many people would be interested in giving up a weekend to learn about the political process; I was convinced that I would be the only participant and that my extreme ignorance about lobbying would be evident to the presenters from the get-go.
When I walked into the training room, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was full of thoughtful people. In fact, the room was so full of people that we had to find more chairs-and then figure out how to rearrange the furniture so that everyone could fit!
As I write this, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) is debating the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. This legislation would, among other things, authorize funding levels for U.S. contributions to the United Nations. While this is a separate process from voting on appropriations bills-where funding is formally provided for U.N. accounts-the Foreign Relations Authorization Act gave HFAC members a chance to go on record with their support, or lack thereof, for the U.N. and its work. The results were highly disappointing for those of us who believe in the importance of U.N. funding, as the committee repeatedly voted in favor of shortchanging U.S. contributions to this important world body.
Today, Citizens for Global Solutions along with twenty-one other human rights organizations and one individual, delivered a letter entitled Burma: Banking Sanctions and Establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to President Obama and other high level officials. The organizations decided to deliver the important letter today because July 7th commemorates the 1962 Seventh July Uprising during which the military regime attacked and killed over one hundred students at a historic university in Burma.
The group led by the U.S. Campaign for Burma, sent the letter to President Obama to remind him of the continued humanitarian crisis in Burma caused by the military regime. In particular, they point out the national military offensive against ethnic and civilian villages. According to the letter, "Villagers have been arrested, tortured, and killed by Burmese troops on accusations that they were supporters of the ethnic resistance groups."
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