A CARE Advocate’s take on Secretary Tillerson’s Subcommittee Hearing

A CARE Advocate’s take on Secretary Tillerson’s Subcommittee Hearing

6/15/17

Several of my fellow advocates from CARE and other partner organizations like Oxfam and PATH attended this week’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Secretary of State Tillerson, where he discussed proposed cuts to the foreign assistance budget and State Department. We were all wearing red t-shirts emblazoned with LESS THAN 1% OF THE BUDGET = SAVING LIVES, and we were hoping that Sec. Tillerson and the Members of the Subcommittee would get the message.

Did they? Let’s just say there were some mixed messages. 

We were encouraged when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) opened the proceedings by talking about the importance of soft power to support U.S. security. Thoughtful, sustainable, strategic soft power is tremendously influential in changing the attitudes, lives and outcomes of people and governments in other countries through diplomacy, development and humanitarian assistance.  By supporting developing countries with foreign assistance – healthcare, education, food, economic support, water and sanitation programs and more – we create stable economies and relationships in countries that are currently ripe for conflict. Soft power means we wage global peace by saving lives and improving the quality of life for millions of desperate people. It’s how we make friends in the world. 

We were also encouraged by Tillerson’s opening remarks when he said, “Our role in the world has also historically entailed a place of moral leadership. In the scope of international affairs, America’s level of goodwill toward the world is unique, and we must continue to display a commitment to personal liberty, human dignity, and principled action in our foreign policy. Quite simply, we are the only global superpower with the means and the moral compass capable of shaping the world for good. If we do not lead, we risk plunging the world deeper into confusion and danger.”   

And yet he went on to defend President Trump’s proposed drastic and senseless budget cuts to the very programs that have provide the moral leadership and goodwill he described.  

Oxfam, PATH and CARE Action advocates team up at Senate hearing Many Members of Congress who have long championed robust foreign assistance pushed back.  Senator Graham cited the enormous threats and disasters taking place around the world and asked Tillerson how it is possible to respond to these crises with these proposed budget cuts.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) challenged Tillerson's description of budget cuts through hard management analysis by asking him with skepticism how the State Department can be in a position to respond effectively to unforeseen problems and crises without proper support.   

Asked about the one billion-dollar cuts to Pepfar and family planning programs, Tillerson said these are the result of the President's Executive Order and that they will be carried out appropriately with “minimal impact” on women’s lives.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen, (D-NH) pressed Tillerson further and had her facts ready.  Shaheen said, “The Administration's expanded Global Gag Rule is projected to contribute to at least 6.5 million unintended pregnancies; 2.1 billion unsafe abortions; 21,700 maternal deaths. I'm certainly not comfortable with that kind of impact on women's health worldwide."   

Senator [Durbin] (D-IL) said he was embarrassed by U.S. refugee policy, especially when combined with budget cuts. He said that the U.S. is walking away from its global responsibilities. He talked about why foreign assistance programs that focus on girls’ education are crucial and said that the difference between educated and uneducated girls is that the latter end up in slavery.  

CARE is deeply concerned by the administration’s budget proposal, but we’re strongly encouraged by statements made by Members of Congress, who, in the end, have the deciding vote on what ultimately gets funded.   

I have been proud to join thousands of CARE advocates in using a little soft power of our own to influence our Senators and Representatives through phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings that make our message clear – cutting foreign assistance is dangerous for America. And that message is getting through. This week, it was unmistakably emblazoned on our t-shirts right in front of Sec. Tillerson – hopefully he started to get the message too. 

Richard Sheres is a long time citizen advocate with CARE

Want to see Richard's reaction immediately after the hearing? Watch it here.

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