CARE’s Important Wins on Capitol Hill

CARE’s Important Wins on Capitol Hill

9/15/17

By Kristin Wells, Senior Director for Government Relations, CARE USA  

Last week, CARE’s advocacy team scored big wins on Capitol Hill. For the first time any of us could remember, we were advocating on complex funding bills on the House and Senate floor, and working on a major Senate committee markup, all AT THE SAME TIME!  Even with so many balls in the air, our volunteer CARE Action advocates mobilized nationwide to get many urgent messages to Congress, and we made some big wins across the board. 

The Senate State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bill markup: 

Quite a few of CARE’s interests were under consideration during this Appropriations Committee meeting to determine funding for foreign assistance in FY18, including: 

  • Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: It was close but we scored a win for family planning in the SFOPS subcommittee. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sponsored a carefully crafted amendment to protect international family planning programs that won by a vote of 15-16. ONE VOTE! These programs are critical to reduce extremely high maternal and child mortality rates in the developing world by helping women learn how to use healthy spacing and timing of pregnancies to deliver safely and raise healthy children. We’re thrilled with the win! Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) amendment addresses two primary goals: 
  1. It stripped a provision that would turn the Global Gag Rule into a permanent law from the SFOPS bill and replaced it with the Global HER Act.   
  2. It increased bilateral family planning to $585 million and restored multilateral United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) funding of $372.5 million.  
  • This important amendment will save tens of thousands of lives, but one vote doesn’t leave much wiggle room when the bill goes to conference. We still have a lot of work to do to increase understanding of and build political support for the lifesaving power of family planning among key leaders in the House and Senate to ensure the amendment stays in the final funding bill. 
  • Humanitarian: Also up for discussion was The Taylor Force amendment, which restricts U.S. funding for water, shelter, food and other basic needs in the West Bank and Gaza. This amendment was not expected to be offered on this bill, but with almost no advance warning, the PAD team snagged a human needs exemption, which will allow for critical life-saving assistance to still flow to these regions. The exemption allows for inclusion of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programming and leverages $3 million to benefit 200,000 people, including 120,000 women.  Without this  amendment, which CARE and its partners Mercy Corps and Catholic Relief Services have all fought hard for, desperately needed humanitarian services would have been cut off.  

Continuing Resolution (CR): 

Then, before we even caught our breath, a Continuing Resolution (CR) bill that had only been introduced the night before by the Senate leadership, was brought to the Senate floor. Senator Rand Paul stunned us all by introducing an amendment on the Senate floor to cut $20 billion in foreign assistance funds. It was such a surprise that Senators became confused on the voting process and had to reverse their votes after casting erroneous votes. CARE advocates and staff (along with plenty of our partners) made dozens of calls to key Senators that helped defeat this amendment on the Senate floor. This would have been a devastating amendment that would have gutted critical foreign assistance if it had passed into law.  

House SFOPS bill:

  • We also had a huge victory in partnership and solidarity with aid organization  Islamic Relief Worldwide, when Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) withdrew an amendment to prohibit any U.S. funding to go to Islamic Relief Worldwide. They are a critical partner providing humanitarian relief to many communities in need around the world and we need their continued work and partnership around the globe. 
  • Other key wins:  
    • Rep. Ken Buck's (R-CO) amendment to defund US Institute for Peace failed (we recommended a No vote) 
    • Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Rep. Joachim Castro (D-TX) amendment to support diversity in foreign affairs employment passed (we recommended a Yes vote) 
    • Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) amendment to defund the Office of the Deputy Secretary of State for Management was withdrawn (we recommended a No vote) 
    • Rep. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) amendment to defund The United Nations Relief and Works Agency failed (we recommended No vote) 
    • Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) amendment to decrease Economic Support Funds funding by $12 million failed (we recommended No vote) 

The effort to Save Aid and send a clear message to Congress with #DontCutLives continues. These lifesaving programs remain under threat but these are critical wins that give us hope for our ultimate success.  We couldn't have done it without the tireless support, dedication and energy of our advocates. Thank you for all the calls, petitions, social media posts, in-district and Hill meetings, letters to the editor and countless other efforts, big and small. Your year-round work – and quick responses on days like last Thursday – are making all the difference.  

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