On January 5, 2011, the 112th Congress convened for the first time with the swearing in of new members and ushering in of the political changes resulting from November’s elections. So, what does this mean for the poor here at home and abroad?
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio accepted the gavel and mantle of leadership from Nancy Pelosi, cementing Republican control of the House of Representatives. The Senate remains controlled by Democrats, leaving the two houses of Congress politically divided and increasing the potential for legislative gridlock.
Prior to leaving town in December and wrapping up legislative activity in the 111th Congress, a last-ditch effort to pass a fiscal year 2011 omnibus spending bill failed, forcing members to approve another continuing resolution.
This time, Congress delayed its obligation until March 4, 2011, but it’s unclear at this time how funding levels will be resolved when the date arrives. Of various options, a continuing resolution through the remainder of the fiscal year seems most likely, but anything can happen. In the meantime, the stability of U.S.-funded international programs from food assistance to microfinance hangs in the balance.
As usual, the president will release his annual budget in early February, laying out his funding agenda for the next fiscal year. A budget battle is certain to unfold, as Republican House leadership has been signaling a desire to roll back spending to 2008 levels. The Republican committee says the cuts are needed to curtail the spiraling national debt.
Members who are focused on dramatically reducing federal spending have already begun introducing proposals to slash funding and eliminate federal programs. One such proposal suggests elimination of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Though such a move is highly unlikely to gain traction, it nevertheless demonstrates how unfavorably some members view international development and the very real challenges this would present.
“The budget deficit is a very real national problem and needs to be reduced. However, the International Affairs budget and its humanitarian programs are one of the federal government’s most cost-effective investments with a high rate of return in saving children’s lives,” says Robert Zachritz, director of World Vision’s advocacy and government relations team.
“Through programs like disaster assistance, clean water, AIDS, fighting global hunger, and malaria prevention, lives are being saved. These programs should not receive a disproportionate amount of the coming cuts.”
The international humanitarian assistance accounts make up less than 1 percent of the total federal budget.