A Temporary Recess

February 22, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

Congress is in recess this week to mark the Presidents’ Day holiday, but there was a whirlwind of activity before Members headed back home. Late Friday night and into Saturday morning, the House took final votes on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. The House-passed CR contains grave cuts for the International Affairs Budget, funding these critical national security programs at nearly 20% below Fiscal Year 2010 enacted levels. The good news, however, is even though dozens of cutting amendments to the International Affairs Budget were filed, only a few were actually debated, with one very concerning amendment defeated. The House’s appropriations package now heads to the Senate with a looming deadline hanging over legislators’ heads. Without a compromise resolution passed by March 4, the date the current CR expires, the federal government could shut down for the first time in more than a decade.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

GOP’s New Foreign Affairs Chair Ready to Play Hardball (Sandra McElwaine, the Daily Beast)

There are a lot of firsts in the life of the exuberant Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The first Republican woman elected to the House of Representatives from Florida. The first Cuban-American to join that august body, and currently the most senior Republican woman in it.

Smart Power

Real Conservatives Don’t Slash Foreign Aid (Thomas Carothers, the New Republic)

As House Republicans press for deeper budget cuts, one of their top targets is foreign aid. It is a tempting candidate for draconian cuts—a soft priority in today’s hard fiscal times and a budget line with no strong domestic constituency. Before Republican budget hawks wield their knife, however, they should take a lesson from their conservative cousins in the United Kingdom: When belt-tightening gets serious, foreign aid should be improved, not gutted.

Wrong time to cut foreign aid (Betsy Suero Skipp, Miami Herald)

I thank Andres Oppenheimer for his Feb. 13 column, Aid cuts could be diplomatic suicide. We must change the misleading and negative image of U.S. foreign assistance promoted by some members of Congress and educate Americans about the vital role of international aid and diplomacy in making the world a healthier, safer place.

Congress Shows Poor Judgment with Food Aid Cuts (William Lambers, American Chronicle)

The Washington Post’s story, “House budget proposal’s deep cuts in humanitarian aid criticized,” highlights poor decision making when it comes to our national security. The cuts in food aid, in particular, will have devastating consequences to our foreign policy. And Congress just does not get it.

Mercy Corps chief says House budget cuts would cripple U.S. disaster response (Richard Reed, the Oregonian)

The head of Portland-based Mercy Corps says the budget bill passed by the House of Representatives Saturday would slash foreign aid and leave the United States unable to respond to a disaster on the scale of last year’s Haiti earthquake.

Politics/Foreign Policy

U.S. House Pushes Through Deep Aid Cuts (Aprille Muscara, IPS)

With a 2015 deadline fast approaching to meet a collective global promise to tackle poverty and improve education, health and environmental sustainability around the world, development and humanitarian advocates are up in arms over conservative lawmakers’ proposals to slash and burn entire chunks of the United States’ foreign aid budget.

U.S. Development Firms Fire Back at Rajiv Shah (Ma. Leonzon, DEVEX)

U.S. development contractors urged the U.S. Agency for International Development to change its “tone” of discussion regarding implementing partner firms if it wants to achieve its goals amid the challenging fiscal environment.

U.S. budget cuts will affect world’s poorest countries (Kelsea Brennan-Wessels, Vatican Radio)

The US House of Representatives on Saturday approved legislation to cut federal spending deeply through September. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, imposes severe spending cuts aimed at domestic programs and foreign aid, including aid for schools, nutrition programs, environmental protection, and heating and housing subsidies for the poor.

Q&A with former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (Dave Cook, Christian Science Monitor)

Foreign-policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. He currently is counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Brzezinski was the guest speaker at the Feb. 10 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Intervening in the Libyan tragedy (Marc Lynch, FP)

The unfolding situation in Libya has been horrible to behold. No matter how many times we warn that dictators will do what they must to stay in power, it is still shocking to see the images of brutalized civilians which have been flooding al-Jazeera and circulating on the internet. We should not be fooled by Libya’s geographic proximity to Egypt and Tunisia, or guided by the debates over how the United States could best help a peaceful protest movement achieve democratic change