The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Oxfam’s international affairs budget voting guide: H.R. 3354

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The chamber of the US House of Representatives. (Photo: Ben Chapman, http://bit.ly/2eZMjzh)

Today the House of Representatives will vote on the State Foreign Operations spending bill as part of the Omnibus package (HR 3354) for FY 2018. Here’s Oxfam’s guide for which amendments Congress should support or oppose.

Upon their return from August recess this week, Congress got back to work on the long slog of passing next year’s budget. For those of us that care about global poverty and international programs, the process thus far has been a harrowing one. The Trump administration used its characteristic blunt instrument approach, proposing deep cuts and elimination of critical international aid programs and initiatives under the banner of efficiency and deficit reduction.

Congressional leaders offered swift rhetorical rebuke of the administration’s proposal, but we’re not out of the woods. After a spring and summer of committee hearings, letters, op-eds, we’ve managed to stave off some of the deepest cuts; but the House amendment process could deal significant setbacks to people living in poverty and experiencing crisis all over the world. The stakes are high, and we’re paying attention. We combed through the dozens of amendments offered by both Republicans and Democrats ahead of this week’s vote. Here are the ones we’re keeping a close eye on.

Amendment 95: Increase funding for global tuberculosis programs
Vote: YEA
Foreign assistance has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and from consecutive Republican and Democrat administrations for its critical contributions to creating a more prosperous and secure world for all. US contributions to global health programs have shown particular success – contributing to declines in maternal mortality, containment of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, lowering incidence and deaths from malaria, and more. If passed in its current form the House budget bill, the proposed 17 percent cuts to poverty-focused development accounts would mean millions would go without these lifesaving services and some of the US’s most effective international programs would be dramatically affected. In an effort to stall some of these negative impacts to global health, Representatives Engel (D-NY), Young (R-AK), and Green (D-TX) have proposed an amendment that would increase USAID funding for tuberculosis programs by $209 million.

Amendment 94: Defund the US Institute of Peace
Vote: NAY
In another attack on effective international programs, Representative Buck (R-CO) has proposed completely defunding the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in order to reduce the deficit. Since its founding in 1984, USIP has made important contributions in the areas of global security, conflict resolution, and peacekeeping through their research, training, and outreach. With a budget of $37 million, their contributions far outweigh the cost, and will barely make a dent in the US debt. Investing in the promotion of peace now is far cheaper than the real budget-buster of paying for conflicts later.

Amendments 96 and 99: Support for the Economic Support Fund
Vote: YEA on 96, NAY on 99
In addition to research, funding for promoting development in conflict-affected countries is essential to helping them rebuild and create a positive future for themselves. The Economic Support Fund (ESF) is a foreign assistance funding account that helps do just that. The account provides funds for basic services in countries recovering from disaster and violence, and supports the strengthening of civil society, the rule of law, and the capacity and accountability of governments. Recognizing the importance of these funds to the well-being of some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, Representative Frankel (D-FL) has proposed an amendment that would increase funding for the ESF account by $8.5 million. At the same time, Representative Grothman (R-WI) has proposed an amendment that would reduce the ESF account further by $12 million – further reducing the international affairs budget is an unthinkable proposal given the 17 percent cut included in the bill while the world confronts the worst refugee crisis since the second World War, famine conditions in multiple countries, and devastating natural disasters.

Amendment 101: Increase funding for the US African Development Foundation
Vote: YEA
The US African Development Foundation (USADF) is a little known, but important US foreign assistance agency. Established by Congress as an independent US agency, USADF invests in agriculture, energy, and youth-led projects across Africa to spur local economic growth – thereby improving the livelihoods of families and communities and building strong US trading partners for the future. Representative Donovan (R-NY) has proposed an amendment that would increase USADF funding by $15 million, and help do a lot of good for families living in poverty.

Amendment 115: Restrict funding to Islamic Relief
Vote: NAY
In what appears to be a singling out of a humanitarian NGO based on religious affiliation, Representative DeSantis (R-FL) has proposed an amendment that would prohibit Islamic Relief from receiving US funding. Islamic Relief not only provides emergency humanitarian assistance to communities around the world, its US affiliate has provided millions of dollars in support for response and recovery from disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, and programs that assist some of the most vulnerable populations in the United States. Restricting funding to the organization because it is Muslim is unconscionable, unconstitutional, and un-American.

Amendment 110: Restrict funding to UN human rights bodies
Vote: NAY
Another amendment by fellow Floridian, Representative Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) proposes to prohibit US contributions to UN human rights bodies including the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Removing funding from agencies that contribute to upholding global human rights norms and holding countries accountable would further shrink US global leadership.

Amendment 102: Increase funds for international technical assistance
Vote: YEA
Technical assistance is a key element of foreign assistance that helps increase effectiveness and sustainability of development programs. A variety of US agencies offer such assistance to developing country governments and local institutions to ensure they’re able to meet the needs of their citizens for the long term. Representative Lynch’s (D-MA) amendment gives a boost to technical assistance programs led by the Treasury Department, increasing the budget of Treasury’s Office of Technical Assistance by $4.5 million. Strengthening local capacity through programs like this is key to aid effectiveness and will help countries move toward graduation from assistance.

The lines are drawn and the budget choices are clear: We can hold fast to US values and invest in programs that make us all better off, or we can attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest.

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