The House of Representatives has approved legislation authorizing U.S foreign assistance programs and other spending for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years. Lawmakers debated a range of global issues before the 235 to 187 vote approving the measure.
The legislation is part of an effort by Foreign Affairs Committee Democratic Chairman Howard Berman to reform foreign assistance and strengthen the diplomatic and other resources the U.S. deploys each year.
The United States, Berman says, faces a range of threats while grappling with economic difficulties. "The U.S. now confronts the most complex array of threats in many decades, if not [in] the entire history of our nation. Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran [and] North Korea, terrorism [and] nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking and climate change. All pose major challenges to our national security. And we must confront these threats in the midst of a global financial crisis with enormous ramifications both at home and around the world," he said.
Among other things, the measure requires the president to present a national security strategy for U.S. diplomacy and development every four years, modeled on a similar review produced by the Pentagon.
It authorizes more than $18 billion for the State Department in 2010, including 1500 new Foreign Service officers at State, and 700 at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and expands the Peace Corps, one of President Barack Obama's priorities.
Provisions improve oversight of U.S. security assistance, support international peacekeeping operations in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad, and strengthen State Department arms control and nonproliferation capabilities.
The measure also funds U.S government-funded international broadcasting activities, establishes permanent authority for Radio Free Asia and extends the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
In the Western Hemisphere, the measure broadens the Merida Initiative with Mexico, and other Latin American and Caribbean countries to combat drug trafficking.
In the Middle East, it directs the president to implement policies to address resettlement needs of Iraqi refugees and internally-displaced persons.
In Africa, the measure requires an assessment for Congress on continuing needs of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and a report to Congress on a government-wide strategy and the strengthening of U.S. civilian capacities to prevent genocide and mass civilian atrocities.
The legislation seeks tighter coordination of U.S. policy on Tibet and
authorizes establishment of a Tibet Section in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and
directs the Secretary of State to seek establishment of a U.S. consulate in
House consideration brought debate on familiar issues such as U.S. policy regarding abortion, and contributions to the United Nations.
Democrats such as Lynne Woolsey from California argued that the measure marks a move away from policies pursued under the Bush administration, while Texas Republican Ron Paul disagreed:
WOOLSEY: This bill moves our foreign policy away from intimidation and pre-emption to a policy based on smart security.
PAUL: Some are hopeful that this will be a less militaristic approach to our foreign policy [but] quite frankly I don't see any changes."
Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen questioned U.S. funding for the U.N. Development Program. "The U.N.D.P. to which the U.S. contributes $100 million or more per year continues to be the poster child for mismanagement, corruption and waste. From Zimbabwe to Uganda to Burma to North Korea," she said.
The House rejected Ros-Lehtinen's proposed amendment to require the U.S. to withhold funds from the U.S. contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency equal to nuclear technical cooperation provided by the agency in 2007 to Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.
Also rejected was an amendment by California Republican Ed Royce declaring that Eritrean support for insurgents in Somalia poses a direct threat to U.S. national security, and calling for Eritrea to be designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
Among those approved included an amendment by Texas Republican Michael McCaul to require a presidential report to Congress on a comprehensive interagency strategy and implementation plan to address the ongoing crisis in Sudan.
"Implementing this comprehensive strategy will advance respect for Democracy, human rights and religious freedom through Sudan. It will address internal and regional security while combating Islamic extremists and by advancing regional security and cooperation it will eliminate cross-border support for armed insurgents and it will shut down safe havens for extremists who pose a threat to the national security of the U.S. and its allies," he said.
In the end all but 7 Republicans voting opposed the Foreign Relations bill, while 18 Democrats voted against the legislation, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated will cost the government about $40 billion to implement over the next five years.