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Congress Still Fails to Invest in an Ounce of Prevention

December 8, 2010

This year, once again, Congress failed to complete its main required task for each legislative year:  passing appropriations bills to fund the federal government.  So, this year, once again, as the holiday clock ticks toward recess, House and Senate are engaging in legislative acrobats to keep funds flowing for 2011.  Current prospects favor a “continuing resolution” – or a bill that designates funding levels for a set period of time into the future – which will keep most programs funded at 2010 levels through the next fiscal year.  Not all programs will remain at steady state, though. Negotiations over the continuing resolution will result in some programs getting cut and others receiving increases for 2011.

Not surprisingly, the military appears set to receive an increase to its annual funding level, while civilian foreign policy agencies – namely the State Department and USAID – will suffer cuts.  On the chopping block for 2011 in the foreign affairs budget is funding for the Civilian Response Corps (which will be reduced by 2/3 from $150 million in 2010 to just $50 million in 2011). The Complex Crises Fund, FCNL’s other hard won success in prevention funding, will not receive the small increase both House and Senate were proposing for 2011, and instead stays at the 2010 level of $50 million. (On the bright side, the White House is pushing for increases to nuclear nonproliferation funding.)

The final balance will be more of the same: billions for war, pennies for peace.  Despite the remarkable savings that could be gained from preventing wars rather than fighting them, Congress still seems unable to practice real fiscal responsibility or help promote real security.  Even the military’s own Stars and Stripes journal is now reporting on the mismatch between peace and security needs and congressional funding.

Unfortunately, prospects for investing in an ounce of prevention to build a safe and stable world look even worse for next year.  The incoming Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 112th Congress, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, is already declaring, “my mission is to cut the State and foreign aid budgets“, with little recognition, it seems, that such cuts ultimately end up costing the US taxpayer billions more in costly military interventions.  Talk about fiscally irresponsible!

Why can’t Congress get the message and shift its budget priorities when even Secretary of Defense Gates is arguing publicly that, ““Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers”?  Perhaps because the public and Congress have remarkably inflated perceptions of what the US spends on preventive tools like diplomacy and development.  Last week, a Washington Post blog carried this must-see graph on public opinion on foreign aid.  If only Congress were willing to fund development at half of what the public thinks it should be funded!



One Comment
  1. January 31, 2011 12:06 pm

    With all the enthusiasm for peaceful change in south Sudan, it would be a crime if the rest of the world did not use their influence to support these people who havwe suffered so long.

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