Competing Priorities

November 8, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

Senate consideration of the second FY12 “minibus” spending package, including the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, has been delayed and is not expected to come to the floor this week.  Senate Leadership sources indicate the minibus could still come up next week, but the schedule remains very much in flux due to other competing legislative priorities.  In addition, with the deadline for the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expiring on November 18, Congress is expected next week to pass another CR to keep the government running at FY11 levels until mid-December.

Must Reads

Smart Power

US lawmakers lift hold on aid to Palestinians (AFP)

US lawmakers have lifted a hold on nearly $200 million in aid to the Palestinians that had been suspended in response to the Palestinian bid for full UN membership, officials said Monday.  The US funds had been held back by Congress since August 18, according to the office of the Republican chairwoman.  The influential congresswoman lifted objections to the release of a first $50 million tranche in a September 2 letter to the US Agency for International Development — ahead of the UN General Assembly at which Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas officially requested full state membership for his people.

US foreign aid and the 2012 budget: where will the axe fall? (Claire Provost and Will de Frietas, The Guardian)

American foreign aid is once again on the chopping block this week, with the Senate set to debate further spending cuts for global health programmes, humanitarian assistance, and US contributions to the World Bank, UN agencies, and other international organisations.  Eager to rein in government spending, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is seeking to make further budget cuts in US diplomacy and global development programmes in 2012, following last year’s 12.5% decrease in spending.

Proposed restrictions on aid to Egypt come at ‘worst possible moment,’ U.S. official says (Walter Pincus, Washington Post)

A senior State Department official warned Friday that proposed congressional restrictions on military and economic aid to Egypt come “at the worst possible moment” and risk harming relations with the new government in Cairo.  Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said that, before Congress acts on legislation that could also cut off assistance to Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority, “We must ask ourselves, if we are no longer a partner, who will fill the void?

Don’t slash foreign aid (Editorial, The Minnesota Daily)

In his talk, Gates specifically pointed out three reasons why aid is still crucial for developing countries. First, U.S. aid funds innovation that poor governments and unstable private sectors cannot support. These innovations provide solutions in agriculture, health and several other areas.  Next, investing in the development of poor countries is good for everyone involved. When there are more highly educated, healthy countries, there is more prosperity for all.  Finally, what most people do not realize is that the U.S. spends barely more than 1 percent of its budget on developing countries. In comparison, it spends 15 percent on defense.  Congress should listen to Gates and keep foreign aid flowing to improve the lives of others.

Smart power versus dumb power (John Young, TC Palm)

Know without a doubt that parochialism and regression are the itches that the tea party has scratched.  A common theme: The United States should cease foreign aid as a grand gesture of budget austerity. Of course, generally such claims spring from ignorance of how much the federal foreign aid represents.  That would be less than 1 percent. The tea partiers want less than that. Ask them.  That would result in exactly the opposite of what Time magazine describes in a report focused on the successes of the Obama State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The subject: “smart power.”

Politics/Foreign Policy

Supreme Court confronts a trove of constitutional questions in case involving passport law (Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

If landmark Supreme Court rulings sometimes come in unlikely cases, the justices’ consideration Monday of a law that gives 50,000 Americans born in Jerusalem the option of listing “Israel” as their birthplace seems to fit the bill.  In a little more than an hour, lawyers and the justices debated whether the president has sole authority to guide the nation’s foreign policy, whether Congress is an equal — or perhaps superior— partner and whether the Supreme Court even has a role to play in sorting it out.

Key budget vote indicates Berlusconi has lost majority (Gavin Jones, Reuters)

A key vote in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday indicated Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has lost his parliamentary majority, piling further pressure on him to resign.  Berlusconi won the vote on the ratification of 2010 public accounts because the opposition abstained, but he obtained only 308 votes, far below the 316 needed for an absolute majority in the 630 seat Chamber