From the Executive Director's Desk...
Legislative outlook for 2008
Rev. John L. McCullough
By Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
Many nations of the world have much shorter campaign periods for national elections. One advantage of their approach is that it minimizes the disruption to legislative processes. In the U.S. , Congress tends to engage in less important work during presidential election years. If critical bills do not get considered early this year, they effectively will be “dead” until a new Congress convenes in January 2009
See, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind… like streams of water in a dry place… Then the eyes of those who have sight will not be closed, and the ears of those who have hearing will listen.
Isaiah sets a high standard for government authority, and we understand that he is speaking about the coming Messiah. While no earthly “rulers” live up to the standard of Christ, we would like our government leaders to be consistent in their walk on the path of justice and righteousness. As advocates for justice, peace, and people-centered development we can keep our eyes open, keep our ears alert, and lift our voices to advocate to our government for more just and peaceful policies and actions.
In order to assist your advocacy planning for the year, here is a run-down on legislative prospects in Church World Service's high priority areas for 2008.This posting covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, HIV/AIDS funding, water appropriations, the Farm Bill, and global trade. My next article later this month will address climate change, poor country debt, Latin America (Colombia and Cuba), and Sudan.
Middle East Peace
The Annapolis peace conference held this past November and President Bush's pledge to achieve a peace agreement by the end of this year bring a welcome, if tardy, U.S. impulse to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As people of faith, we can work to build bi-partisan support in Congress for constructive Administration and Congressional actions, while seeking to prevent actions that could hinder the peace process.
We can also encourage U.S. financial assistance to the Palestinians, which is needed for nurturing a climate conducive to peace and for building the institutions of a future Palestinian state.
Congress appropriated approximately $6 billion for HIV/AIDS programs for FY 2008. This represents real progress, but it is still far from adequate.
As a result of current programs, 3.1 million people now receive AIDS treatment, out of a total of 12 million who urgently need it. Less than 10 percent of children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS are receiving any type of support. Only about 1 in 10 HIV-positive pregnant women had access to medication to stop transmission of the virus to her baby.
A coalition of advocates is calling for $59 billion in U.S. spending over the next five years. This funding would include $9 billion for tuberculosis and malaria programs and also address the severe shortage of health care workers.
The Africa Health Capacity Investment Act also deserves our support. It would provide funding for training and retaining health care workers in sub-Saharan Africa .
Congress appropriated $300 million for FY 2008 for long-term safe drinking water and sanitation projects. In comparison with previous funding commitments for water, this was a big step forward.
That amount should be substantially increased for FY 2009. Over 1 billion people lack safe, affordable drinking water, and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation facilities.
A Farm Bill amendment to limit farm program subsidy payments received a 56-vote majority in the Senate. Unfortunately, it failed because a procedural move required the amendment to receive a super-majority of 60 votes. Since the House and Senate passed somewhat different versions of the Farm Bill, the differences will have to be ironed out in a conference committee.
As a global humanitarian organization, our concern is focused on ending “agricultural dumping.” This is the practice in which U.S. agri-businesses buy and sell heavily subsidized U.S. farm products below the cost of production, harming many U.S. family farmers and destroying rural livelihoods in developing countries. Instead of these trade-distorting subsidies, farmers in the U.S. and developing countries deserve to receive a fair price for their crops.
Global Trade Policies
Some of the most contentious and complicated parliamentary wrangling in Congress this session may occur on trade. The Administration is eager to see Congress ratify free trade agreements with Colombia , Panama and South Korea . A big push for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already underway.
“Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority , requiring an up or down vote with no amendments , lapsed on July 1, 2007, and Congress has not renewed it. However , the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement , which became law in December, as well as the three pending agreements, were negotiated in time to be included under this provision.
Our concern continues to be that these free trade agreements require developing countries to allow massive U.S. imports that destroy jobs, undermine small-holder farmers, and bankrupt domestic-owned businesses. The agreements also raise the price of essential medicines by placing new restrictions on generics. For these reasons, we oppose the Colombia FTA, and advocate for pro-development trade relationships that genuinely benefit the majority of people in both the U.S. and developing countries.
While the presidential campaigns rightly draw much of our attention in 2008, we should not give Congress a free pass on hearing from people of faith around the concerns we believe are vital to our country and the world.
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