Advocates of the United Nations and U.S. soft power are reeling on Thursday following a vote in the House Appropriations Committee to slash funding for the State Department and a range of U.N. programs.
In a Wednesday vote on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the committee voted to cut billions out of the U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance programs. That included a 20 percent reduction in international peacekeeping and 42 percent reduction in development assistance. The Republican majority also zeroed out voluntary funding to a range of U.N. organizations including the UN Development Program, UN Women, UN Population Fund and the UN's Children Fund.
This, as you might imagine, is not going over well with advocates of foreign aid and international institutions. "Left unchanged, the House measure threatens to keep the UN from maintaining an already scaled-back operating budget, especially jeopardizing essential work at agencies like the World Health Organization and International Atomic Energy Agency," said Peter Yeo, executive director of the Better World Campaign.
Yeo emphasized the effect of the committee's $745 million allocation to the Contributions to International Organizations account, which amounted to less than half of President Obama's $1.57 billion budget request "At time when we're asking the UN do more with less-from housing and feeding Syrian refugees, to stabilizing countries terrorized by radical Islamist terrorists-the U.S. simply cannot abandon its treaty commitments and its allies."
The House vote, which comes at a time of government-wide belt-tightening, coincided with a vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee which approved $50.6 billion for State and Foreign Operations. The Senate move earned praise from like-minded advocacy groups of the Better World Campaign, such as the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
"We are grateful for the Senate's leadership today in affirming the strong return on investment America receives from our International Affairs Budget," said USGLC Co-President Bill Lane and retired General Charles Wald. "The risk of disengagement is dangerous to our security and economic interests. Without this critical funding, we will not have the tools to address global hotspots such as in North Africa and the Middle East or be able to tap into the fastest growing markets for our exports, which are in the developing world."
So where do the two very different bills leave us? In reality, none of the legislation will likely make it to the floor given Congress's increasingly penchant to avoid passing budgets and instead opting for continuing resolutions again and again. So at some point in September or October, lawmakers will attempt to bridge the funding gap between the two bills -- leaving advocates for foreign aid and the U.N. scrambling to protect their preferred programs. Suffice it to say, it's going to be a busy fall.