Inflammation and stories on congress

 Global Poverty ActThe U.S. is heading towards a historically unique presidential election later this year. In the lead up to this November, it’s important to know how Joe Biden has helped fight global poverty. Specifically, Biden’s actions with the Global Poverty Act of 2007 demonstrate his commitment to increasing national security by combating poverty.

Biden’s Political Background

Before he became Vice President in 2009, Biden served in the U.S. Senate for over three decades. During this time, Biden was a ranking member and two-year chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Throughout his political career, Biden has supported foreign aid and implemented U.S. programs to help those in need. 

In the spring of 2007, Representative Adam Smith introduced the Global Poverty Act of 2007 to the U.S. House. The bill passed in September 2007 with bipartisan support and moved onto the Senate. Senator Barack Obama and two other senators introduced the bill in December 2007; Biden co-sponsored the bill and added minor amendments. The official bill saw no further action following its proposal on April 24, 2008.

What was the Global Poverty Act?

The Global Poverty Act aimed to make fighting global poverty the main goal of U.S. foreign policy. The bill itself did not detail a specific plan to combat global poverty. Rather, the bill ordered the President and Secretary of State to draft and implement a plan. The bill stated that the President’s strategy must have detailed goals, reasonable timelines, and include consistent progress reports to Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Global Poverty Act of 2007 would cost less than $1 million per year and would not order new spending, meaning that the plan could be implemented with minor changes to the fiscal budget. As foreign assistance is less than one percent of the federal budget, implementing this plan would have a major impact on the world with minimal monetary changes. 

The bill argued that it is America’s duty to help those in need. Moreover, solving global poverty would help combat terrorism and strengthen national security. This legislation stated that Congress had already taken steps to fight global poverty, but the executive branch could do more. In particular, Congress established goals that cut the number of people who live on less than $1 a day, lack reliable food, drinking water, and sanitation in half.

Wider Impact

The initiatives mentioned above were part of the Millennium Development Goals formed in 2000. These goals were not yet achieved by 2007. Consequently, The House introduced the Global Poverty Act to emphasizing the need to combat global poverty and make progress on these goals. The bill also emphasized the need to invest in U.S. programs that help reduce global poverty. In particular, these programs increase debt relief for poverty-stricken countries, promote sustainable development, and emphasize the need for future action. By putting fighting global poverty at the front of the presidential agenda, it would show other countries that they should do the same.

The 2008 Recession likely contributed to the bill stalling. At that time, Congress was focused on drafting domestic legislation. Although the House never implemented that Global Poverty Act of 2007, Biden’s involvement shows he understands fighting global poverty is an important aspect of U.S. national security. In essence, Biden’s involvement with the Global Poverty Act suggests he will use the executive branch to help combat poverty if elected this coming fall.

Jacquelyn Burrer

Photo: Obama White House Archives

Childhood Cancer in Developing Countries
Although people have made significant progress in treating communicable diseases in childhood, one cannot say the same about reducing childhood cancer in developing countries. In fact, many did not consider it a public health problem in the developing world until recently. The mortality rate is currently an alarming 80 percent in developing countries with 160,000 new cases each year. Tragically, many could receive treatment from generic medications if they receive the right foreign aid according to Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. Children with cancer living in low to middle-income countries are four times as likely to die of their disease as children living in high-income countries. 

Challenges Ahead

In order to reduce morbidity rates from childhood cancer in developing countries, people on the ground will face significant challenges. U.S. researchers reported that the median cost for 15 different generic drugs was only $120 in South Africa and $654 in the U.S., yet many people cannot even afford the lowest drug prices. The reason is that the drugs are actually more expensive when compared to per capita GDP (the average person’s total economic output). In Australia, generic drug prices were 8 percent of per capita GDP compared to 33 percent in India. The question of how many people will be unable to receive treatment despite lower drug prices remains. Another challenge is that many children will have already reached the late stages of the disease and perhaps even have comorbid HIV as with the Burkitt lymphoma trial in Malawi. The trial failed to reach two-thirds the cure rate of developing countries despite patients receiving intensive chemotherapy treatment.

New Legislation Passed

Yet there is hope. The U.S. House of Representatives has recently passed a bill to address the issue. McCaul and Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel introduced the Global Hope Act of 2019 and demonstrated that the two parties are still capable of swiftly passing bipartisan legislation despite increased polarization in the country.

The congressmen introduced the bill on December 10, 2019, and the House passed the bill on January 27, 2020. The bill aims to improve the survival rate of children living with cancer in developing countries. It will support the Global Health Organization’s initiative to increase the survival rate of children with cancer to 60 percent by 2030.

How it Works

One of the main focal points of the bill is improving the availability and cost of existing medicines and developing new ones. People have already developed much of the infrastructure from previous aid directed toward communicable diseases, but the bill seeks to enhance infrastructure as well. As outlined by the foreign affairs committee’s press release, the bill will help increase the survival rate of children with cancer by:

  • Supporting efforts to train medical personnel and develop healthcare infrastructure to diagnose, treat, and care for children with cancer
  • Leveraging private sector resources to increase the availability of cancer medicines
  • Improving access to affordable medicines and technology that are essential to cancer treatment
  • Coordinating with international partners to expand research efforts to develop affordable cancer medicines and treatments

Childhood cancer is the second leading cause of death in childhood worldwide, second only to accidents. Though the issue remained in the shadow of communicable diseases for years, people are starting to take notice. The new legislation passed in the house addresses many of the barriers to a high survival rate for childhood cancer in developing countries.

– Caleb Carr
Photo: United Nations

Mobilizing Congress Matters In today’s society, most people think it won’t make a difference when they are asked to vote or contact Congress. However, this is not the case. Congress is “the People’s Branch,” meaning that Congress is supposed to be representative of the people. Every single member of Congress is elected into office by their constituents; therefore, they can be elected out as well. So, they pay close attention to the demands of their citizens. They make frequent trips back home to stay in touch with their constituents. The staff of these representatives dedicates a lot of time to reviewing mail from citizens. Members of Congress keep in touch with local officials and attend meetings with their constituents. The nature of this job ensures that mobilizing Congress matters because a congressperson’s position is entirely dependent on the will of the people.

The Misconception

Recent data indicates that the reason the majority of people don’t vote is that they either don’t care or don’t think their vote matters. In fact, a 2008 survey showed that 13.4 percent of people were not interested in voting. Socioeconomic status and cultural norms have proven to affect whether people believe mobilizing Congress matters. Some are taught that it is expected that they vote in order to make a difference in the country. Other people, however, believe that “politics is a kind of abstract, dirty business. So, a lot of people come to adulthood with a different understanding of their place in the political system.”

Inequalities reinforce themselves throughout every aspect of life. If someone is from a highly affluent community, they are likely to associate with people who believe in voting. This may inspire them to go out and vote. Whereas, those in poorer communities are more apt to believe that their voice doesn’t matter. This creates a pattern in these communities. Members from wealthier communities continue to show up to elections, but members from poorer communities are underrepresented. Conversely, residents from affluent areas see their preferences being represented. However, preferences from struggling areas continue to go ignored.

Past Mobilization Victories

Mobilizing Congress matters, and the historical record shows it. The following are two examples of global poverty reduction movements that succeeded thanks to U.S. citizens rallying together to enforce change.

  • The Global Security Food Act was signed into law by President Obama on July 20, 2016. The law works to make getting food to the world’s poor as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. The Global Security Food Act faced an uphill battle. However, it was the power of mobilization that turned this bill into law. Thousands of people wrote letters to their congressional officials in support of the bill. More than 270,000 people showed up to the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day Event. In June 2015, 86,000 citizens signed a petition, and more than 34,000 people called their representatives in support of the bill. These voices were heard. The House of Representatives passed the bill in a majority of 369 to 53.
  • The Water for the World Act was signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014. This law seeks to address the issue of 2.5 million people who do not have access to toilets and more than 750 million people who do not have clean drinking water. The mobilization of Congress played a key role in this act’s passage. Organizations like WaterAid worked tirelessly alongside non-profit and faith-based organizations to get people to lobby Congress. Congress recognized the efforts of these groups and individuals, which culminated in its unanimous passage in both houses of Congress.

Congress Wants to Hear from its Citizens

Politicians have always been aware of the power a constituent’s voice holds. One of America’s first Congressmen, Thomas Jefferson, held that “the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents.” Jefferson believed that the government functioned only by the will of the people.

Furthermore, it is Congress’ job to represent its citizens. Therefore, congressmen need to hear from their constituents to make their preferences known. The conversations congressmen have with their people guide policymaking. Members of Congress also look at letters and e-mails that have personal touches to see what issues citizens are passionate about. Members of Congress want to stay in touch with their people and they are willing to use modern technological innovations to do it.

Mobilizing Congress matters! Congress says it, the historical record indicates it and Congress’ job description requires it. However, it is up to the people of the U.S. to take advantage of it.

Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Wikimedia

Corruption Around the World
Corruption, which Transparency International defines as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain,” is one of the most significant roadblocks facing developing countries today. The World Bank points out that corruption disproportionately hurts the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, increasing the cost and reducing access to basic services like health care, justice and education. According to a 2017 survey by Transparency International, 25 percent of respondents worldwide said they had to pay a bribe to access a public service within the last 12 months. According to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, bribery and stolen money drain the global economy of $3.6 billion every year.

This past June 2019, congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN9), along with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, introduced legislation to the House of Representatives designed to crack down on corruption around the world. The bill, titled the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, seeks to expose actors on the international stage who have attempted to undermine democracy or have promoted corruption around the world and to punish those actors with various sanctions. This article will explore the history of U.S. and international efforts to combat corruption around the world, before examining the details of congressman Cohen’s legislation.

The History of Global Anti-Corruption Efforts

In the late 1990s, regional groups of states began to sign anti-corruption treaties. In 1996, a group of Latin American states entered into the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. Since its adoption in 1999, dozens of African countries have signed the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. However, the most comprehensive and far-reaching international anti-corruption treaty is the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which went into force in 2005. One hundred and eighty-six countries around the world have ratified the Convention, which has pressured 86 percent of its signatories to adopt tougher anti-corruption measures.

U.S. efforts to fight corruption around the world started with the Foreign Corrupt Services Act, which it enacted in 1977. The Act prohibits U.S. individuals and firms, as well as certain foreign individuals and firms operating on U.S. soil, from making bribes to foreign officials in order to advance a business deal. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has worked on the ground with foreign governments to strengthen their ability to resist corruption. For instance, the INL worked with the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior to replace the country’s notoriously corrupt police force with 16,000 new patrol police.

The Kleptocrat Exposure Act

Steve Cohen introduced the Kleptocrat Exposure Act to the House of Representatives on June 24, 2019. The Act, which has four Republican and two Democratic co-sponsors, has entered the House Judiciary Committee for debate and has yet to enter to the House as a whole. The Act primarily aims to amend another piece of legislation called the Immigration and Nationality Act. In its current form, the Immigration and Nationality Act generally keeps information about visa refusals confidential, but with certain exceptions, such as when information about an immigrant’s visa status is necessary in cases going before a court.

However, this amendment would allow the Secretary of State to release information to the public regarding visa refusals to foreign individuals who have committed human rights violations or corruption. Under the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, the Secretary of State’s release of information about an individual’s visa refusal would have to be based on credible evidence that:

  • The individual carried out “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” against people trying to promote democracy or expose corruption within their country.
  • The individual acted as an agent for a person described above.
  • The individual himself was a government official in his/her country who participated in some act of corruption, such as “the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions.”
  • The individual provided technological, financial or material support for one of the acts of corruption described above.

According to Skopos Labs estimates, the bill only has a three percent chance of becoming reality. However, the fact that this legislation has at least some bipartisan support could be a sign that U.S. lawmakers might be starting to recognize the U.S.’s role in exposing and punishing human rights abusers and kleptocrats. Even if the legislation fails in Congress on its first try, the Kleptocrat Exposure Act could just be the first step towards more sustained policy efforts to get the U.S. more involved in cracking down on corruption around the world.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Kamala Harris's foreign policy

With such a broad field of candidates in the Democratic Primary, twenty in all, it is difficult to identify and to process the political positions of the various candidates. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has spoken on her positions on many topics including a $15 minimum wage and tax-cuts to the middle class. One issue that has not yet been discussed at length is Senator Kamala Harris’ foreign policy platform. Like many of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Harris does not have any direct foreign policy experience. As a former district attorney of San Francisco and later the attorney general of California, Harris holds strong experience and policy stances in regards to domestic policy. Harris currently holds opinions on the following issues: U.S. and Israel Relations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, direct U.S. involvement abroad, and North Korea.

U.S. and Israel Relations

Harris is a long-time supporter of strong relations between the U.S. and Israel, a topic that has become contentious within the Democratic Party. In 2017, Harris cosponsored a Senate resolution that challenged an earlier resolution from the U.N. Security Council which called for an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank region. This particular Senate resolution stated that it felt that the U.N. resolution condemned the state of Israel as a whole and not just the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. In the past, Harris has stated that she believes in a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and that she supports U.S. backed discussion between the two states. It is too early to tell, but Kamala Harris’s foreign policy platform will likely include a continuation of her support for a two-state solution with an emphasis on a continued relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Senator Harris, along with senators from both parties, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP was introduced at the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016 and was promptly withdrawn by President Trump in Jan. 2017. The deal would have connected the U.S. in a formal trade agreement with Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. The agreement had the potential to increase U.S. trade and investment abroad. Harris’ own reasons for voting against the TPP include her belief that the agreement was not as apparent as it should have been to garner the full support and trust of the U.S. and that she found its intended changes to invalidate “California’s landmark climate change and environmental laws.” It is currently unclear if Harris intends to advocate for a re-entry of the U.S. into the TPP under revised conditions.

Direct Involvement Abroad: Syria and Yemen

In February of 2019, Harris voted against a Senate resolution proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that admonished President Trump’s removal of U.S. troops from Syria. Senator Harris did not publically explain her vote but may have been motivated by a desire to remove U.S. troops from Syria or a reluctance to be associated with a military presence that had not been authorized by Congress. Harris has also been vocal in her disapproval of U.S. support of a Saudi-led intervention in Yemen stating that she “believes we must reassert our constitutional authority to authorize war and conduct oversight.”

North Korea

Senator Harris has not made any direct statements regarding her planned approach to the rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea but has declared that she disapproves of President Trump’s current approach to the situation. Along with eighteen other senators, Harris signed a letter to President Trump in 2018 stating that he did not have the legal authority to declare a strike on North Korea. From such a statement alongside her other positions in regard to U.S. foreign involvement in conflict abroad, Senator Harris’ foreign policy platform will likely include an emphasis on the power of Congress.

Though it is still early in the Democratic primary and many of the candidates have not yet discussed their foreign policy platforms, the above descriptions of the history of Senator Harris’ foreign policy positions will certainly guide the debates to follow.

– Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr

relief for VenezuelansThe Venezuelan people are experiencing a crisis with the collapse of their economic and healthcare system. They are challenged with a lack of medical supplies and equipment. Malnutrition and food insecurity are becoming extreme issues as well. Since 2014, it is estimated that more than 3 million Venezuelans have migrated to other countries to seek food and a better life. In the wake of Venezuela’s crisis, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) proposed the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019, which will contribute to relief for Venezuelans during this time of crisis.

Aid to the Healthcare System

The Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019 focuses on healthcare facilities. The bill suggests offering aid by supplying the healthcare facilities with necessary medical equipment, medicines that are in great demand and other basic medical supplies that a facility might need.

With the Venezuelan healthcare system collapsing and shortages of medicine and supplies growing, several diseases, such as measles and malaria, have started to affect many people. This proposed bill will ensure the proper distribution of medicines and supplies to Venezuelan healthcare facilities via local nongovernment organizations.

Food and Nutrition Assistance

Assistance in food and nutritional supplies will also contribute to relief for Venezuelans. The children of Venezuela are experiencing extreme malnutrition in what some researchers are already considering a famine. As much as 41 percent of children can go without eating throughout for an entire day in Venezuela. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell’s bill aims to address the lack of food security and increased malnutrition. The bill will handle these issues by supplying people with food commodities and supplements.

Reports stated in the proposed bill will monitor the relief for Venezuelans. The bill proposes assistance with ensuring that all health and food supplies being distributed to Venezuelans are dutifully selected and spread throughout the entire population. Local nongovernment organizations are to oversee these distributions.

The bill’s reports will cover how well supplies are being spread out to the population and assess the degree of relief being provided to the population. The United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State will oversee the delivery of the assistance and ensure that it is properly handled.

Where is the Bill Now?

On March 25, 2019, the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019 was passed in the House of Representatives and will now move on to the U.S. Senate. The proposed bill was read by the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Foreign Relations on March 26, 2019. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell states that providing $150 million each fiscal year will help to achieve the goals of providing relief for Venezuelans. The proposed bill concludes with condemning the current situation in Venezuela and the actions carried out by the Maduro regime and the country’s security forces.

– Logan Derbes
Photo: Flickr

Calling CongressThe First Amendment gives Americans a handful of freedoms, one of the most important being the freedom of speech. But, with freedom of speech comes a more nuanced and focused right- the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In simpler terms, this grants Americans the right to make a complaint to or seek help from their government without fear of repercussion. People often wonder whether calling Congress makes a difference. It has been shown that there is a difference between emailing and calling your representative. It is helpful to understand why it is so important to call Congress.

Why It Is So Important To Call Congress

For starters, calls speak much louder than emails do. It is much more personable to place a phone call as the person must take the time and effort in their busy day to do so. Furthermore, one is more likely to get a response that is not automated, so the call will not get lost in the masses as an email could.

When constituents call their Senators and urge them to co-sponsor a bill or vote in favor of a specific proposal, that request gets tallied. When there are enough tallies to get the attention of the Senator, it is not uncommon for them to vote in the way their constituents had pleaded. If the call is in favor of a more intense partisan issue, there may be a lower success rate for the constituents, but still, their voice is heard and their request is noted.

If enough people call about a similar issue, that has the power to halt the office and bring that issue to the top of an agenda. Demands in such high volumes are impossible to ignore and force a Senator to address them. The power to change the agenda in a congressional office is among the many reasons why it is so important to call Congress.

The Problem with Calling Congress

There is, of course, one major flaw in this system. While there is no cap on the number of emails that can be received at any given time, the same can not be said about phone calls. Even if a congressional staff fielded calls for an entire business day with no breaks and with all-hands-on-deck, they could still only take around 4,000 calls. Because there are so many more constituents than available phone lines, many people can get sent to voicemail. These voicemails are, however, listened to, and if a request for a vote is made over the line, the extra effort and desire to be heard is noted by the staffers and their plea still goes towards the tallies.

With so much on the plates of the leaders in Washington, it can become challenging to remain personable and in touch with the individual needs and desires of constituents. When people call their leaders, it bridges the them-and-us gap. It allows for congressmen and women to connect with their constituents and hear their stories; in turn, it allows them to better advocate for and represent these people and empathize with their concerns. Sharing a personal story and emotionally moving the staffer can have a huge impact, even if it is just one person.

Placing a phone call is somewhat of a lost art, but it still holds so much power. It is a form of communication that simply cannot be ignored, and thus, is far more likely to hold ground and achieve the desired result. While, yes, it is easy to send an email, it takes bravery and effort to place a phone call and explain to the people representing you how it is you would like to be represented. This is the power of a phone call, and it explains why it is so important to call Congress.

Charlotte M. Kriftcher

Photo: Flickr

John Mccain
On August 25 2018, Senator John McCain passed away at the age of 81 from a year-long battle with brain cancer. He had served in The U.S. Senate for over 30 years. During his tenure as an Arizonan Senator, he earned the title of a Maverick because of his service in the navy and his willingness to act independently from The Republican party. One of the most famous instances of this was his choice to vote against the repeal of The Affordable Care Act.

John McCain’s Legacy with Foreign Aid

He left behind him a complex voting and ideological history that included John McCain’s legacy with foreign aid. While he was a strong believer in defense spending and military intervention, he was a strong supporter of foreign aid spending as well. To McCain, one of the best ways to ensure America’s safety was to invest in other countries.

One of the best examples of John McCain’s legacy with foreign aid was in 2017. President Donald Trump’s budget plan for 2018 included cuts to foreign affairs spending, which includes foreign aid. The cuts totaled roughly $18 billion. One of the countries that would have suffered the most was the small North African country of Tunisia. In 2016 the country had received $177 million dollars; in the new budget, they would receive only $54 million dollars.

Sen. McCain spoke against the proposed cuts, wrote several opinion pieces and released a joint memo with Sen. Tim Kaine. In a forum, Sen. McCain promised that funding towards Tunisia would be restored. Funding to Tunisia is important because several Tunisians had been recruited into ISIS and many would return as ISIS lost territory in Syria and Iran. Sen. McCain asked, “haven’t we learned our lesson?” He also cited that Tunisia was important in the fight against ISIS and that cutting foreign aid to Tunisia was both “misguided and dangerous.”

A Memo to Congress

On June 15, 2017, Sen. McCain and Sen. Kaine released a joint memo urging Congress not to cut foreign aid. At the beginning of the article, McCain and Kaine used a famous quote from James Mattis, who now serves as the Defense Secretary under President Trump, “if you don’t fully fund The State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

The memo cited that helping developing countries is one of the best routes to achieving a safer world. It states, “[s]uch cuts will make it harder to make America safer”. It also discussed how improving economies in developing countries can help improve the United States economy because it creates more of a demand for American goods and services.

The memo backs this claim by examining how aid in Africa paid off. “By improving their plight, we improved opportunities for our exports and investments.” A majority of the world’s fastest growing economies are now in Africa. It also addressed some of the misconceptions surrounding foreign aid, including that, in reality, The United States only spends roughly 1 percent of the budget on foreign assistance.

Following Sen. McCain and several other Congressional leaders’ dissent, the Trump Administration did not cut the foreign aid budget nearly as much as it intended to. The foreign affairs budget was only cut by roughly $4 billion instead of the proposed $18 billion.

Sen. McCain’s defense of foreign aid helped stop the President from severely cutting spending. While he was once considered a Warhawk, he understood the importance of foreign aid as another tool of defense for The United States. John McCain’s legacy with foreign aid will remain as an example long after his passing.

– Drew Garbe

Photo: Flickr

US Congress
In mid-August 2018, the Trump administration announced that it was considering freezing more than $3 billion in unspent foreign assistance funding allocated to The State Department and The U.S. Agency for International Development. The proposal, put forth by The Office of Budget and Management, would place a freeze on all unspent foreign aid funding for 45 days. During that time, the U.S. Congress would have to either approve the proposed cuts or reject them and mandate the administration to allocate the funds as specified by the Congressional budget. 

Budget Cuts Proposal Did Not Follow Procedure

The funding freeze would have taken effect less than 45 days before the end of the fiscal year; therefore, it would not have provided Congress with the required legal timeframe set to address the proposed rescissions before the close of the fiscal year to the return of the frozen funds to the U.S. Treasury. The precedent for the Trump administration’s move is spelled out in The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which allows unspent funds to be frozen for 45 days by the administration. However, the legality of this current move by the President has been questioned given the disregard for the required review time by Congress.

A letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), warned against thwarting the will of Congress by submitting recessions without giving lawmakers the required time to act. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) also questioned the proposed plan saying, “It would be a step of bad faith […] I don’t how they can do that legally.”

The concerns expressed by Senators Leahy and Corker reflect a continuing Congressional resistance to Presidential attacks on U.S. foreign assistance funding. This attempt to roll back foreign aid spending is not the first time that the current administration has made clear its lack of interest in bolstering international development. The President’s 2018 and 2019 budget proposals recommended a 28 percent cut in funding for The State Department and USAID. In addition, the budgets have implied a need to consolidate USAID and The State Department into one group, therefore, reducing the size and autonomy of the U.S. government’s foreign aid program.

Bi-Partisan Support of Foreign Aid Remains Strong

Despite the intentions of the executive branch, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have remained in support of foreign aid programs and have largely disregarded budget recommendations from The White House and maintained established levels of foreign aid funding. Many members of The U.S. Congress have spoken out in favor of the benefits that foreign aid brings to The U.S., citing programs like The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has played a major role in reducing the global AIDS death toll by half since 2005, and The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), which has saved an estimated 7 million lives since 2000, as essential governmental initiatives.

Recognizing the bipartisan resistance in The U.S. Congress and from State Department head Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration announced in late-August that it would be dropping the proposal. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy praised this move commenting,Rescinding funds that had been agreed to by Congress and signed into law by the President, in the waning days of the fiscal year, would have set a terrible precedent and harmed programs that further United States interests around the world.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also received acknowledgment for his defense of the funding for his department, which would have been reduced by almost ten percent had the administration’s proposal been enacted.

Though, in this case, the fund allocated by The U.S. Congress for foreign assistance programs was left in place, the Trump administration has set a precedent throughout its term of hostility towards that aspect of the bureaucracy.  In this sense, there is much at stake for the future of U.S. foreign assistance. However, what has been demonstrated thus far is that lawmakers in The U.S. Congress remain in support of foreign assistance/ development and will take action to uphold its place within the U.S. government.

– Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr

Progress in U.S. Foreign PolicyRecent months have seen several instances of progress in U.S. foreign policy, specifically in terms of foreign aid initiatives. In the span of little over a month, from mid-June to late-July, four such initiatives have come one step closer to making it through Congress. These initiatives are described in the text below.

Global Food Security Reauthorization Act

On June 19, 2018, the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act of 2018 passed in the Senate, and is currently under consideration by the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill will renew the Global Food Security Act of 2016, allowing for continued U.S. assistance in efforts to eradicate chronic hunger and poverty in developing nations.

In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) cited the number of people suffering from chronic hunger at 815 million, which is 10 million more than when the initial legislation was drafted. Of this number, 489 million people were living in areas experiencing conflict.

U.S. foreign assistance seeks to install agricultural development programs in target countries that will use innovative science and technology to make the most of agricultural resources. In fostering food security and economic growth, increased productivity in agriculture will alleviate both hunger and poverty, in addition to stabilizing populations that are especially vulnerable to conflict and environmental hardship. The stabilization of these countries ultimately bolsters U.S. national security.

Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act

The House of Representatives passed the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018 on July 17, 2018. It is now under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Globally, discrimination impedes women’s financial success in a number of ways:

  • Lower wages mean smaller incomes.
  • Laws and practices in some countries keep women from their rightful ownership of assets, as in the case of inheritance.
  • Gender-specific constraints have left over 1 billion women worldwide out of the formal financial system, depriving them of opportunities such as access to credit.

These factors all contribute to the reality that women comprise the majority of the world’s poor, rendering them more susceptible to violence, exploitation and poor health.

If this bill is implemented, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will work with countries to develop standards for gender equality and reduce gender violence. The agency will also support programs that establish and ensure equal rights to ownership and equal economic inclusion.

In 2016, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that women’s equal participation in economic activity would add $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.

Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act

July 17, 2018, saw another instance of progress in U.S. foreign policy with the House of Representatives also passing the BUILD Act. The bill has gotten through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is under further consideration by the Senate.

The BUILD Act would combine the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) with certain functions of USAID, creating the United States International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC) to replace OPIC.

Through loans, investments and partnerships with American businesses, the USIDFC would encourage and facilitate the investment of American private sector resources in developing nations. In financing business endeavors in these countries, the bill serves to create jobs, thereby stimulating their economies. This economic stimulation would make developing countries capable to afford infrastructure development projects.

The ultimate aim of the BUILD Act is to reduce the need for U.S. foreign aid by catalyzing modern development and bringing relations closer to an equal partnership. Congress expects that the USIDFC will go beyond self-sufficiency to bring in revenue to the U.S. Treasury.

Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act

The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act made it through the House of Representatives on Oct. 3, 2017.  On July 26, 2018, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally passed the bill along to the Senate for consideration.

As of June 2018, disaster and conflict have displaced upward of 68 million people, out of whom 25 million are refugees. Over half of the refugee population are children, and almost four million of these children lack access to primary education. The average length of displacement is 26 years, meaning that the affected children are at risk of never receiving an education. And yet, as of 2016, under 2 percent of all foreign aid has gone toward ensuring education for children in need.

If enacted into law, the bill will mandate the U.S. to work with other countries in making education accessible to all displaced children. By educating children, countries combat poverty, exploitation and extremism, which thrives in areas of hardship. As its name suggests, the legislation would give special priority to girls, who are both economically disadvantaged and more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, human trafficking and child marriage.

Benefits of US Foreign Policy

Although these initiatives are designed to directly impact nations in need, each of them would also have an indirect positive impact in the U.S. and around the world.

Whether helping to stimulate the global economy, improving overall global health or ensuring that human rights that are upheld around the world, global interdependence means that progress in U.S. foreign policy could lead to progress around the globe.

The recent steps that Congress has taken to approve the foreign aid legislation cited above have brought hopes for this goal of becoming reality.

One simple way to find out more about these and similar issues is the direct contact with the Congress, which is easily possible through The Borgen Project, more specifically, through this link.

– Ashley Wagner
Photo: Flickr