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Global Action May 2010

Write a Letter to the Editor: Congress Must Fully Fund the International Affairs Budget

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These funds have saved millions of lives through life-preserving drugs for HIV/AIDS, mosquito nets to prevent malaria, and other proven programs. In this difficult budget climate, we all have to make tough choices, but the international affairs account is a smart, cost-effective investment that should be funded appropriately. Short-changing these programs delivers very little budget relief at enormous cost to our global efforts and America’s leadership in the world.

— Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

What does $60 billion buy? That’s about what consumers in the United States spend on jewelry annually, and the amount that airline passengers will pay for baggage and other fees this year. Each year, Americans will buy about $60 billion worth of soft drinks, chocolate, and (coincidentally) weight loss products.

And $60 billion is a bit more than what President Obama has proposed the U.S. spend on our entire global development, diplomatic, and humanitarian programs in the coming fiscal year — $58.5 billion. That’s just 1.4 percent of the total federal budget. And yet this $58 billion proposal is under attack. The Senate Budget Committee has proposed slashing $4 billion from this account, and it will be up to Congress to restore the cut.

Help build support in your community by writing a letter to the editor in support of the International Affairs budget.

Sample Letter to the Editor

Instructions: Follow the guidelines for letters to the editor provided by your local papers. Always include your address and phone number with your submission. Make your letter short (150–250 words) and to-the-point using the EPIC format (see sample letter below). To write a letter through the RESULTS website, go to http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/media. If your letter gets published, amplify its impact by sending a copy of your published letter to your members of Congress.

Engage

What do Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell have in common? They are among the eight living former Secretaries of State that recently wrote to Congress in support of funding for international affairs programs. A group of over 50 prominent retired military leaders wrote a similar letter.

Tip: Check out the letters of support linked in the Action Sheet for more ideas. Try to connect your letter to a timely news issue, local story, or personal experience. Highlight how you and your community benefit from U.S. global engagement.

Problem

The Senate Budget Committee recently passed a budget resolution that slashes $4 billion from the president’s international affairs funding proposal. While foreign aid may be a popular target in tough economic times, this account is only 1.4 percent of total federal spending and is essential to our security.

Inform about the solution

The U.S. cannot rely solely on defense without diplomacy and development. International affairs funding supports a broad range of international development, economic, and diplomatic activities that help create a more prosperous and secure world.

Tip: Use specific examples of successful foreign aid investments such as microcredit, global health, or basic education.

Call to action!

Congress should reverse the decision made by the Budget Committee and fully fund the International Affairs account.

Tip: Check to see if your senator signed the letter supporting the International Affairs budget, and acknowledge his/her support.

About the International Affairs Account

The International Affairs account supports a broad range of critical global programs. All of U.S. foreign aid — including support for global health, basic education, and microfinance — is funded through the International Affairs account. In addition to core foreign assistance programs, the account support the Peace Corps, debt relief for poor countries, educational and cultural exchange programs, efforts to fight climate change, overseas embassy and consular functions, contributions to multilateral organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and many other investments that facilitate the United States’ engagement with the world.

The proposed International Affairs budget is just 1.4 percent of the total federal budget.

Congress Must Act

Each year Congress is tasked with setting the parameters for federal spending by passing a budget resolution, which includes a ceiling on total spending and recommendations on how funding should be divided among national priorities. Last month the Senate Budget Committee passed its blueprint for federal spending in fiscal year 2011 (FY11) and struck a potentially crippling blow to U.S. foreign aid programs by slashing $4 billion from the president’s proposed International Affairs budget of $58.5 billion.

Thankfully, the full Senate can still reverse this misguided decision by the Budget Committee. As the budget resolution comes to the Senate floor, supporters of the International Affairs account are expected to offer an amendment to restore funding to the president’s requested level. The House of Representatives may soon consider its own budget resolution, so now is a critical time to voice public support for this investment in global prosperity and security.

Strong Support for Global Engagement

While the International Affairs budget is under pressure in Congress, it has attracted high-level support from a diverse group of leaders. Before the Senate Budget Committee took action, a bipartisan group of 31 Senators wrote a letter in support of full funding for the International Affairs account. In response to the Budget Committee’s cut, all eight living former Secretaries of State wrote an open letter to Congress in support international affairs spending, noting "[t]his is one area where Democrats and Republicans can agree and should come together to help ensure a more secure and prosperous future for our nation."

There is growing recognition that effective investment in global prosperity has the potential to make our country more secure. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support of the International Affairs account may be expected, she has been joined by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has become one of Washington’s most vocal advocates for investments in diplomacy and development. Writing to the Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-SD), Secretary Gates noted: “the work performed by diplomatic and development professionals helps build the foundation for more stable, democratic and societies. These are places where the potential for conflict can be minimized, if not completely avoided.”

The link between development and security was echoed in a letter from over 50 retired military brass in support of full funding for the International Affairs account.

Help Build Support in Your Community

Despite this high level support, there is often very little political risk for members of Congress in attacking foreign aid, particularly during an economic downturn. In a recent poll, foreign aid was the overwhelming favorite for targeted cuts, with 71 percent supporting cuts to the program to help balance the budget. That’s why it is critical that we continually educate our communities about the value of the International Affairs budget and demonstrate to our elected officials that there is support for this funding among informed and engaged citizens.

Write a letter to the editor today and urge support for full funding for the International Affairs budget!