From the Executive Director's Desk...
Legislative outlook for 2008, Part 2
Rev. John L. McCullough
February 22, 2008
By Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
In this essay, I conclude a summary begun earlier this month of Church World Service's legislative priorities for 2008. Key to keep in mind is that if bills aren't addressed in the first half of the year, then action is unlikely until a new congress reconvenes 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.
This scripture, referring to the Messiah, also expresses God's will for government leaders. It provides people of faith with “marching orders” for our advocacy efforts. The latest developments in the presidential race tend to receive much more media attention than what is happening in Congress now. As advocates of justice, peace, and people-centered development, we are called to keep our eyes open, our ears alert, and lift our voices to advocate for more just and peaceful policies and actions in the next few months. Here is what we are facing on four key issue areas:
Many of the climate change bills introduced in Congress last year were rolled into omnibus energy legislation and became law in December as the “Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007.” This bill represents an important first step in curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions but did not set any targets and did not offer any assistance to developing nations who will disproportionately bear the burden of global warming.
In November, several faith community representatives met with Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner to discuss a comprehensive climate change bill they introduced (“America's Climate Security Act”). Several important commitments were secured related to the coalition principles I shared with you in my earlier essay on Climate Change. The Senators added language to ensure that a certain amount of funds generated by a “cap and trade” system to curb greenhouse gas emissions would be directed towards least developed countries -- those countries likely to be most harmed and which have generated the least amount of greenhouse emissions. The money would help those countries adapt to and address problems related to climate change like increased droughts, famines, water shortages, food security. It will be important to continue to lift up our global responsibilities with respect to climate change this year.
Poor country debt
Bills were introduced in both the House and Senate last year to expand eligibility for debt cancellation to 25 new countries and remove harmful conditionalities from the Heavily-Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) program, affecting 67 nations in total. The House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote on the Jubilee Act soon. If the bill is affirmed, it will come out of committee and a House vote is likely. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold an oversight hearing on debt soon and may also then approve the bill, sending it out of committee.
Church World Service issued a Speak Out Alert on the Jubilee Act in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. If you haven't already done so, please take the time to contact your member of Congress.
Unfortunately, a general ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba remains in effect, including severe restrictions on Cuban-American family travel, academic exchanges, and religious delegations. Some leaders in Congress who have previously been champions of removing these travel restrictions decided in 2007 not to pursue this bill to end the travel ban, because of the presidential race. For this reason, in spite of Cuban President Fidel Castro's decision to step down from power, it is unlikely that any such legislation will move forward in 2008.
Nevertheless, it is important to keep before Congress the issue of travel to Cuba -- and in particular religious travel -- in preparation for seeing a change in 2009.
Congress cut 31% from military and police aid to the Colombian government, and decreased funds for aerial spraying coca eradication. It shifted these funds so as to provide a 70% increase for social and economic aid, alternative development, and strengthening human rights protections. The bill included $15 million for development aid for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. It also ties 30% of the military aid in the foreign operations bill to meeting human rights conditions (up from 25%).
In 2008, Church World Service and other Colombia advocates will seek to maintain the significant progress made in 2007 so that the Administration cannot reverse these important strides.
Congress appropriated $550 million for the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. So far only about 9,000 of the authorized 26,000 peacekeepers have been deployed, and deployment may proceed much too slowly. Congress can continue to play a helpful role by appropriating the remainder of FY 2008's request for $724 million in funding for deployment of UN peacekeepers.
A Lenten Commitment
During this season of Lent, a season of reflection and repentance, we can participate in God's work in the world by being steadfast champions of justice and peace. Please be watchful during these next few months and contact your members of Congress as the legislative process unfolds, so that this legislative year will not be wasted, but will help bring new hope for people throughout the world.
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