Legislative Update - August 2007

August 1, 2007

As Congress heads home for its traditional August Recess, below is an update on many of the legislative initiatives you care about and have taken action on during the past several months. Thank you for all of your hard work!

Farm Bill: The legislation governs many important policy areas, including key investments in rural communities, critical nutrition programs for those in need, conservation of our natural resources, and clean and renewable energy. Globally, the farm bill’s impact is felt in developing countries where the success of small-scale farmers is key to the eradication of poverty - a primary Millennium Development Goal. The House version passed last week with little in the way of reform. While this is a disappointment, the faith community is well positioned to continue aggressive advocacy as the Senate begins its consideration this fall. Several key legislative opportunities for advocacy remain in the complicated reauthorization process – watch for our next alerts!

Minimum Wage: President Bush signed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 earlier this year with the first increase beginning July 24 of this year when it went from $5.15/hour to $5.85. Wages will increase further by $0.70 in July 2008 and again in July 2009 to a level of $7.25. We are looking ahead to new proposals that may incorporate indexing so that the Minimum Wage can continue to increase with cost of living without becoming a perennial political tug of war.

Stem Cell Research: Despite strong votes of support in the House and Senate (247-176 and 63-34 respectively), the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 was vetoed for a second time by President Bush on June 20 of this year.

DC Right to Vote: The ongoing effort to secure Congressional representation for District of Columbia residents may finally see passage of a legislative compromise. Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has said he will bring up S. 1257, the DC House Voting Rights Act, after the August recess

Hate Crimes: Anticipated action on S. 1105, the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act did not occur before the August Recess. This legislation could come up for a vote in the Senate at any time once Senators return after Labor Day.

Iraqi Refugees: Both the House and Senate have bills in committee dealing with Iraqi Refugees: H.R. 2265, the Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act 2007 and S. 1651, the Refugee Crisis Act. These bills seek to assist certain Iraqi Refugees especially those who are threatened due to their association with the United States. The American Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, recently asked the Bush administration to grant immigration visas to Iraqis who worked for the United States in Iraq. The State Department has also announced that it will resettle 7,000 Iraqi Refugees this year but so far they have only resettled 68.

Nuclear Weapons: The Bush administration has requested $119 million in the FY ’08 budget for the development of the Reliable Replacement Warhead and both the House and Senate have moved to reduce the funding with further votes expected.

Immigration Reform: The Senate’s failure to act on immigration reform appears to have doomed that effort for the remainder of this Congress. It will be interesting to see how immigration is dealt with during the 2008 election year.

SCHIP: The State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program was up for reauthorization this year. We supported expansion of this important program. As we go to press, the House passed its version of S-CHIP legislation on August 1, and the Senate is expected to pass its version before the recess. The President has vowed to veto this legislation.

Note: Unlike most of the action described above in the domestic section, the majority of legislative action around international issues has come through consensus or through Committee agreements, meaning that recorded floor votes do not exist. Typically, on foreign-policy issues, Congress prefers to operate by consensus rather than through up-or-down votes.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): In January, after intense lobbying by the Episcopal Church and other members of the ONE Campaign, House and Senate leadership preserved $1 billion in hard-won increases for the fight against AIDS and poverty around the world, and persuaded lawmakers to add an additional $400 million. The money will save at least 100,000 lives in sub-Saharan Africa over the next year.

As discussed above, reform of the farm bill so that U.S. subsidies do not paralyze the ability of poor countries to trade fairly is key to the eradication of poverty and the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 8.

Additionally, attention is now focused on pressing new legislation for debt cancellation (H. R. 2636, the JUBILEE Act) and legislation to bring economic empowerment to women in poor countries (the GROWTH Act, note: no bill number assigned at this time). We currently are working to restore money to the United States’ Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a key poverty-fighting program whose budget was slashed this summer by congressional appropriators to approximately half of what President Bush requested for it in FY’08. Unless these cuts are restored, the Millennium Challenge Corporation will have to scale back ongoing poverty-reduction efforts in countries like Tanzania and Burkina Faso to which the U.S. has made specific commitments.

Darfur: As the desperate situation in Darfur continues unabated without critically needed international responses, we are working with other advocates to secure key humanitarian and peacekeeping funds for Darfur provided in the President’s FY’08 budget request and supplemental spending bill for FY’07. On May 29 President Bush announced economic sanctions against Sudan to increase the pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the atrocities in Darfur. In June the Sudanese government agreed to a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force that will deploy 20,000 troops, a plan ratified by the UN. Sudan has reneged on such promises before, however, and even if the government complies fully, it will be just one small step in bringing peace to a long-suffering region. Thus, continued pressure and advocacy from American citizens is critical.

Middle East: Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) halted Senate consideration of Iraq related bills without a vote being taken on S. 1545, the Iraq Study Group Implementation Act of 2007, a comprehensive approach to Iraq and the Middle East.