Politics of Poverty

American values v. “America first”

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Congress quietly reaffirms that leadership, cooperation, and generosity are American values in the Omnibus spending bill.

While most public attention in recent days has been on the healthcare legislation and controversy, the President has outlined an agenda and a set of principles that threaten decades of progress reducing global poverty, disease, armed conflict and improving human rights.  Trump proposed devastating budget cuts to international aid programs, to the State Department, to women’s health and gender rights programs, to anti-hunger programs.  President Trump has been undermining international organizations like NATO, and taking steps to withdraw from international agreements like the Paris climate agreement.

So, it’s an enormous relief to see that Congress is taking a very different course.  The most important and explicit evidence of this is the Omnibus spending bill to keep the government running and avert a government shut-down. The bill passed the House of Representatives yesterday, and the Senate today.  And the President is expected to sign it.

In this bill, Congress shrugged off most of President Trump’s proposals and agenda on international affairs.  A few highlights:

Overall, the Omnibus provides nearly 10 percent more for the State Department and international affairs than the previous year; a sharp rejection of deep cuts proposed by President Trump in his skinny budget.

I first started getting a sense of the level of division between Congress and the White House on international affairs during a lobby day with Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet a few weeks ago.  I met with several Republican Senators and senior Republican House Members.  They were all very conservative and not notable dissidents on the GOP party line.  Yet they were all dismissive of President Trump’s budget and, more generally, his statements about international affairs.  They didn’t even want to discuss it in detail because it wasn’t worth debating.

Again, a relief that even among Republicans, the “America First” agenda was not very popular as a matter of policy.

The Omnibus isn’t all good news, and there are troubling cuts in the budget as well.  For example, the bill abandons the US commitment to the Green Climate Fund, leaving poor countries in the lurch as they face the growing threat of climate change.

Not to mention, this Omnibus just gets the country through the rest of this fiscal year (September 2017).  The next budget year will be another struggle, and that struggle begins immediately.

But overall, the Omnibus isn’t just a funding bill.  It’s a statement of principle and values from the Congress.  And although Congressional leaders might not say it out loud, the bill speaks clearly that Congress doesn’t share President Trump’s “America First” agenda.

Note: I rely on budget analysis from Jonathan Lachman, former White House OMB staff.  Recommend following him on Twitter; and our colleagues at Interaction, who always provide useful and timely analysis and advocacy.

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