Here Comes the Bus

November 1, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

Today the Senate continues work to pass its first “minibus” package, clearing the way for its second minibus – that very likely will include the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill – to come to the floor before the end of this week.  This afternoon the Super Committee will hold another public hearing, receiving testimony on previous debt proposals from a bipartisan group of witnesses including former Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.  Also this afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee holds a hearing on China’s role in Africa.

Must Reads

Smart Power

Republican Presidential Contenders Promise US Foreign Aid Cuts (Jim Malone, Voice of America)

The U.S. presidential election process formally begins January 3rd in the Midwest state of Iowa when Republicans will cast the first votes to choose a party nominee to run against President Barack Obama in November of 2012. The domestic economy and jobs have dominated the Republican candidate debates, but foreign policy issues occasionally come up, including the subject of U.S. foreign aid.  At the most recent Republican debate in Las Vegas, several of the candidates made it clear they would cut foreign aid if elected president.

Floor Fight Ahead for Foreign Aid Levels in State Department Spending Bill (Emily Cadei, CQ)

Foreign aid advocates in and out of the Obama administration are bracing for a tough fight this week to hold the line on Senate funding for the State Department and U.S. international assistance.  The fiscal 2012 State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill (S 1601) is expected to come to the Senate floor in the next few days as part of a “minibus” appropriations package.  The debate on the State Department-related portion is likely to include a raft of amendments targeting development aid to Pakistan, U.S. contributions to the United Nations and International Monetary Fund, climate-change adaptation funding, and other programs.

UNESCO votes to admit Palestine; U.S. cuts off funding (Colum Lynch, Washington Post)

UNESCO voted Monday to admit Palestine into the organization as its newest member, and the United States promptly responded by cutting off funding for the agency.  Acting under a legal requirement to cut U.S. funds to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state, the State Department on Monday announced that the United States has stopped funding the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization because of the vote. Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Obama administration would not make a planned $60 million payment to the agency due this month.

Tied aid debate tests donor ambitions before Busan summit (Gideon Rabinowitz, Guardian)

In late November the international aid community will gather in Busan, South Korea, to agree an action plan to improve the impact of the $120-$150bn in annual global aid flows. Negotiations on this action plan are well underway.  Experienced aid-watchers will not be surprised that “tied aid” – requirements by some donors that aid be spent on goods and services provided by companies based in their own countries – is among the most controversial issues being discussed in advance of the 4th high-level forum on aid effectiveness (HLF4).

Critical Funding for Sudan, Peacekeeping and Genocide Prevention at Risk (Allyson Neville-Morgan, End Genocide)

Funding is one critical tool the United States Government has to advance peace in Sudan, provide humanitarian aid in areas affected by crises, support peacekeeping missions and prevent genocide. Unfortunately, the international affairs account of the U.S. budget, which makes all of this possible, has been targeted by some Members of Congress for disproportionate cuts.  Drastic reductions to international affairs funding will jeopardize lives, undermine U.S. national interests and undercut job growth. The international affairs account is only 1% of the total U.S. budget and yet it represents a crucial investment that, if shortchanged, will be much more costly down the road.

Politics/Foreign Policy

Pentagon may shift focus to Asia-Pacific (John T. Bennett, The Hill)

The Pentagon is considering investing more of its funding in military platforms for the Asia-Pacific region and less on tools for counterinsurgency, defense sources say.   The change in thinking is being spurred by a soup-to-nuts strategy review at the Pentagon that was initiated last spring to help the Defense Department navigate budget cuts.  Several defense insiders said the review has led officials to downgrade the importance of conducting large-scale stability operations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Friend in Need (Charles Kenny, Foreign Policy)

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quick to emphasize that accepting aid did not signal an improvement in diplomatic relations between the two countries, strained ever since Israel’s raid of a Turkish aid flotilla bound for Gaza in 2010 — likely a response to the perception that aid can buy off recipient governments, even if it can’t change popular attitudes. The irony is that the humanitarian assistance that responds to disasters — unlike the majority of aid that goes to long-term development projects — might be the one case where that logic is sometimes reversed.  At a time when the United States’ aid budget is confronted by an army of hatchet-wielding deficit hawks among the Republican Party’s congressional majority and presidential candidates, some aid proponents are making the case that development and humanitarian assistance are powerful tools to buy friends and influence people.