**UPDATE 4/2/2009: Thank you for your participation in this action! There was a massive effort from across the global-poverty community leading up to the vote. Our vote-counting process showed that we had at least 55 out of 99 votes on our side. The opponents of the amendment were clearly doing the same counting because – by yesterday afternoon – they had withdrawn their request for a recorded vote and allowed the Kerry-Lugar amendment to pass by unanimous consent on the Senate floor.
This is a huge victory, but we still have work ahead, as the House bill still funds foreign aid at a level lower than last year. Watch your email for another alert on this important issue after Easter.
Later this week, the Senate will consider a crucial bipartisan amendment by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) to restore approximately $4 billion in U.S. foreign-assistance funding that was proposed by the President earlier this month but slashed by the Senate Budget Committee last week. Passage of the Kerry-Lugar amendment is vital both to the security of the world and to ensuring that our nation does not scale back the commitments it has made over the past five years to fighting deadly global poverty and disease and supporting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Why foreign-assistance funding is important:
Foreign-assistance programs represent a tiny fraction of our nation's budget - less than one percent - but their impact is substantial. American aid saves millions of lives each year by putting children in school, helping women start businesses, preventing the spread of malaria and HIV, and assisting farmers working to improve their local economies. Moreover, foreign-aid programs serve an important role in promoting the security of our nation and world. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted: "America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and under-funded for far too long - relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world."
The President's budget recommended an increase of approximately $4 billion for foreign-assistance programs, modest by the standards of recent years, but this was eliminated by both the Senate and House Budget committees last week, with lawmakers citing the need to use limited financial resources to respond first to the economic hardships Americans are facing as a result of the current economy. While the Episcopal Church fully supports the most-robust possible response to domestic suffering, we don't believe our nation's lawmakers should pit the needs of struggling Americans against those suffering under the weight of deadly poverty and disease around the world. The World Bank warns that the global-financial crisis will push at least 50 million people into deadly poverty this year and cause child-mortality rates in poor countries to rise by more than four percent.
If the Kerry-Lugar amendment is not adopted, our nation would need to retract commitments it has made to life-saving programs, such as those that fight HIV/AIDS and malaria. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote to the Senate this week, "at a time when the world's poorest people need America's partnership the most, it would be tragic to reverse the commitments and progress our nation has made in the last five years to fighting global poverty." (Click here to read the full letter.)