November 8, 2013
With the House out of session this week, the Budget Conference Committee’s work to iron out a FY14 budget agreement remains slow-going. At the moment, behind the scenes work involves partisan meetings – including Senate Republican conferees meeting on Wednesday and Democratic conferees from both chambers meeting yesterday – and conversations between Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The full Conference Committee will hold its second public hearing next Wednesday, November 13th.
2. More Confirmation Hearings
This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held nomination hearings for several posts relating to International Affairs programs, including the State Department, USAID, and the Peace Corps.
Yesterday, the Committee held a confirmation hearing for the following nominees:
First up was the nominee for Tom Nides’ replacement, Heather Higginbottom. In a hearing that was generally very positive, except for questions on Benghazi from Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Higginbottom outlined five priority areas she would focus on if confirmed. Those include: 1) ensuring the safety and security of State Department personnel; 2) prioritizing resources; 3) management, reform and innovation; 4) better targeting and coordinating development efforts; and 5) strengthening the State Department’s economic impact. During her opening statement, Higginbottom pledged to work with the Committee to make development and diplomacy programs more effective, modern and agile and noted, “Our foreign policy investment – at about 1 percent of the federal budget… is really ‘national security insurance.’” She also highlighted she would oversee the second Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review (QDDR).
Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Johnson directed their questions toward a wide range of topics, including embassy security; managing limited resources in a tight budget environment; diversifying State Department personnel; and strengthening accountability. Senator Menendez noted that foreign assistance was 2.5% of the federal budget in 1965 and now is only 1%. Senator Corker lamented that it had been ten years since the last State Department authorization bill was passed and urged Higginbottom and Chairman Menendez to work with him on an authorization bill.
During his questioning, Senator Rubio highlighted the important role of global engagement, stating, “Increasingly, unfortunately, over the last ten years so much of our foreign policy has been viewed in the lens of military engagement, as if that’s the only tool in our toolbox when in fact our most powerful tool is proactively engaging around the world with assistance programs that further our values and our interests and prevent these situations from arising and helping our allies transition to more sustainable pathways.”
The Committee also heard testimony from nominees Dr. Sarah Sewall and Richard Stengel. Dr. Sewall said in her opening statement, “When the world is safer, Americans are safer; and when the world is more prosperous, Americans can be more prosperous. When we invest in promoting our values and preventing conflicts today, we reduce the odds that our military will be asked to sacrifice for us tomorrow.” Stengel emphasized a few of his top priorities would be enhancing the State Department’s social media and technology footprint, educational diplomacy and combatting extremism.
Peace Corps and USAID
On Wednesday the Committee considered the nominations of Carolyn Hessler Radelet for Director of the Peace Corps and Michael Carroll for Inspector General of USAID. Both nominees were met with bipartisan support from the three Senators in attendance – Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who chaired the hearing, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).
Following her introduction by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and former Senator Harris Wofford (D-PA), Radelet spoke of the importance of partnerships and expressed that the Peace Corps had a vital role in U.S. global engagement, stating that the “Peace Corps is one of America’s best ideas.”
Michael Carroll is the former Deputy Inspector General and current Acting Inspector General for USAID. He noted the challenges USAID faces, especially in countries where the rule of law is fragile and corruption is widespread, but pointed out that the Office of Inspector General plays a critical oversight role. In response to a question from Senator Barrasso about demonstrating results from USAID programs, Carroll stated that while USAID Forward is working on this there has been difficulty in articulating accurate measures to show impact. He added that in post-conflict and higher risk locations, where rule of law is not heavily enforced, USAID needs to be more mindful of the monitoring and evaluation processes in order to avoid issues with the delivery of assistance.
3. Senate Hearing on UN Disabilities Treaty
On Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as part of a renewed effort to ratify the treaty following its 61-38 failure in the Senate last year (67 votes are needed for Senate ratification of treaties).
Chairman Menendez called for bipartisan support of the treaty and dismissed concerns some have expressed about the sovereignty of U.S. laws if this treaty is ratified. Ranking Member Corker expressed some concerns about ratification, saying that while he supports efforts to advance the rights of peoples with disabilities he is unsure that the United States should ratify anything that could affect domestic law. He suggested attaching conditions to the treaty ratification in the form of reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs) to avoid unintended consequences. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also expressed some of his concerns about the treaty.
The hearing featured several notable witnesses supporting treaty ratification, including: Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a disabled Iraq War veteran. Secretary Ridge urged the Senate to “support ratification of a treaty that will have a tremendous impact on Americans with disabilities at home and abroad. The treaty advances democracy and business, and above all validates for the rest of the world the value of people with disabilities.” Also on Tuesday, Bill Frist – former Republican Senate Majority Leader – penned an op-ed in Reuters explaining why he believes the U.S. must lead on the treaty.