The Global Citizen: Capitol Hill
Last week I spoke to members of the United Nations Association (UNA-USA) who were preparing to lobby their members of Congress. I was asked to give a 30,000 foot overview of the political climate on the Hill regarding the UN, an update on the U.S. role at the Human Rights Council and the status of ratification of the Law of the Sea convention, CEDAW and the Rights of the Child treaty. Take a look at the presentation and let me know if you have any questions.
On Thursday afternoon the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights held a hearing regarding Africa's newest nation: The Republic of Southern Sudan. While being led to a "spill-over room" at the Rayburn building I was surprised by just how many people were attending the event. Once the hearing appeared on the television I realized that it was not just people spilling out of the committee room, it was also emotion, particularly passion and grave concern. Between the members of the subcommittee and the witnesses present there was a sense of urgency begging for attention for the Sudanese people. The congressmen opened the hearing by voicing just how fragile the Sudan region is.
The most outspoken representative on the subcommittee was undoubtedly Representative Wolf. He announced that we as an international superpower cannot ignore Sudan like we did Rwanda. He went on to say that the Obama administration knows exactly what is going on in Sudan and that it is doing nothing. The situation in Sudan is a mass humanitarian crisis and America needs to respond with sticks, not carrots.
John Danforth, a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN (2004-05), and a Republican U.S. senator from Missouri (1976-94) just published an excellent article in USA Today laying out why it is in the United States' interest to stay engaged in the UN.
He says that while Congress has been debating whether to limit contribution to the UN, the real debate is:
"how we can best influence the institution to accelerate the adoption of reforms while not shutting down the organization's work, decreasing U.S. influence, and costing American taxpayers more money."
His bottom line is this:
"Cutting or limiting our funding, particularly at a time when the world is facing a number of global challenges, can only handicap U.S. diplomacy and give our adversaries a stronger hand."
I hope his former colleagues on the Hill are listening to this Republican icon from the "Show Me" state. Click here to send a message to your representatives supporting U.N. funding.
In an editorial in the Seattle Times, two members of Congress made a strong statement about the importance of international relations funding as budget battles loom. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), and Bill Clapp, the founder of Global Washington and Seattle International Foundation, laid out the key reasons to maintain the international relations budget, including:
"Foreign assistance is the first line of our national defense, making us safer by stabilizing volatile nations. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized, 'development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.'"
In addition to saving us from the troubles and expenses of war, programs that rely on the international relations budget also reduce the need for additional aid in the future. The editorial states, "it cost $100 million to eliminate smallpox on the planet, but now saves the world $1.3 billion annually." International relations spending, a mere 1% of the budget, allows us to proactively solve minor international issues before they become major problems that we have to deal with.
In a strong partisan vote, the House today voted for Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed FY2012 budget (H.Con.Res 34). The vote was 235-193 with every Democrat voting against the budget and 4 Republicans joining them. It is not expected to pass through the Democrat controlled Senate. H.Con.Res 34 aimed to cut $6 trillion over 10 years, while cutting the International Affairs budget by 43% in 2012. Cutting what is about 1% of the total budget is not the place to go to reduce government spending.
In a speech on Thursday at the George Washington University, President Obama rejected Rep. Ryan's plan saying, "We will all need to make sacrifices, but we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in, and, as long as I'm president, we won't." Ranking member Rep. Van Hollen, of the House Budget Committee, also stated that, "We think the Republican budget is the wrong choice for America..."
The proposed cuts to the International Affairs account in Ryan's budget are just ludicrous and will undermine our national security. Funding peacekeeping missions and the UN are investments in our future, and are cheaper than sending in US troops. This vote is just the beginning of what will sure be a long debate on the FY2012 budget, and it is important that international affairs funding is not cut.
Don Kraus has submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State/Foreign Operations. The testimony focuses on the budget for FY12 and the need to maintain funding for international relations, focusing specifically on three accounts:
- Contributions to International Organizations (CIO)
- Contributions to International Peacekeeping (CIPA)
- and the Complex Crisis Fund (CCF)
The testimony asks the committee to meet the President's FY12 request funding levels for each of these accounts. Robust international relations funding is crucially important to America's ability to lead, to our national interests, and to our national security. As stated in the testimony:
"It is imperative that now, more than at any other point in the United States history, that it deploys sufficient resources to maintain its leadership within international organizations in order to work cooperatively with other nations in order to achieve our national goals."
As we enter the evening hours on Friday, April 8th, the federal government is less than 7 hours away from a potential shut down. Democrats and Republicans have managed to compromise on a broad range of budget cuts, many of which this writer doesn't agree with, but still a government shutdown looms. The reason for this is intimately intertwined with the overarching reason that the United States is one of only seven countries that hasn't ratified CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Those on the right are using smoke and mirrors to obscure the real reason they are preventing a 2011 budget to be passed, in the same way they use these tactics to present their opposition to the Treaty. In both the case of the federal budget and CEDAW, they try to convince Americans that these are debates about a women's right to choose, that it's about abortion. But we know that is simply not the case - this isn't about abortion, these two issues are about women's rights as human rights.
Yesterday House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, released his FY2012 budget proposal, which included many cuts. The most alarming cut was that of the International Affairs account, the 150 account. In Obama's FY2012 $63 billion dollars was budgeted for international affairs. In the House GOP FY2012 budget, international affairs received only $36 billion dollars in funding. This is a $27 billion dollar difference between the two, and is the largest percentage change between The House GOP budget cuts Obama's budget by 43%.
No other cuts come close to those made in international affairs funding, with cuts in transportation being the closest coming in at 23.8%. The chart pictured shows the percentage change between the House GOP budget proposal and Obama's budget proposal. It is clear that International affairs funding is taking the biggest hit. This comes at a time when cutting funding would hurt our efforts in Libya, Haiti, Cote D'Ivoire, and many other places around the world where we contribute. UN operations where the United State contributes will also be jeopardized.
Cuts this drastic in international affairs funding will undermine our national security, and cutting what is only about 1% of the total budget is not where to go to reduce government spending. Spending in international affairs is an investment in our future and our national security, and acting through multi-lateral organizations, such as the UN, actually saves the US money.
On Friday, the second day of Citizens for Global Solutions’ 2011 Conference, members took action and went to Capitol Hill to lobby their Congress people to protect funding for the United Nations and stand up against genocide by passing a comprehensive genocide prevention bill. The general feeling was that visits were successful, as the Congressional staffers were for the most part receptive and sympathetic to our cause. Some members found their Congress people whole heartedly supportive of our initiatives while others ran into cautious staff intent on avoiding commitments.
This week, an array of analysts, Congress people, and talk show hosts from the usual suspects on the right to Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and John Stewart on the left, have aggressively attacked President Obama on his course of action in Libya. The three most common criticisms are: 1) The President did not allow Congress to authorize force in Libya; 2) The President has not defined the mission in Libya to the American people and 3) that we can’t pick and choose to intervene in Libya, but not Yemen or Bahrain. Such criticisms have led some to call the mission in Libya a pre-determined failure and comparisons have been made to the Iraq War of President George W. Bush. These concerns are misplaced and untimely as the current action being taken in Libya represents a crucial precedent in civilian protection, responsible international cooperation and the responsibility to protect.
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