Extremism on Display in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Budget Showdown

All day today–and perhaps into tomorrow and the rest of the week–the House Foreign Affairs Committee has been “marking up” a budget proposal to fund the State Department and foreign affairs.  In practice, this means that either a Democrat or a Republican member of congress introduces and amendment to a draft budget, the two sides debate the amendment for a little while, then the specific amendment goes to a vote.

It is pretty standard stuff. And so far, all the of the Republican amendments have passed and all of the Democratic proposed amendments have failed.  But what is remarkable about today’s proceedings is just how out of the typical mainstream some of these amendments have been. The very first amendment considered, for example, fully de-funded American contributions to the Organization of American States.

That particular amendment was put forward by Congressman Connie Mack, a Republican from Florida.  Mr. Mack cited its ties to Hugo Chavez and the OAS condemnation of a coup in Honduras as evidence that the OAS works against American interest. (Never mind that the OAS consistently criticizes Chavez–and Chavez, in turn, has no love for the organization; the United States supported the OAS resolution on Honduras.)

Indeed, Mack said there has never been an incident in recent memory in which the OAS supported democracy. (To which I reply: Earlier this year, the OAS intervened at a critical moment in the flawed first round of Haiti’s presidential election.  The OAS conducted an independent audit of election irregularities and found that Michel Martelly was illegitimately kept off a second round ballot. Martelly is now president of Haiti.)

But the hits did not stop there. After the OAS de-funding, the GOP set their sights on the United Nations.

The base text (before any amendments) would put the United States into arrears in its contributions to UN peacekeeping. So, Representative Donald Payne (a Democrat) offered an amendment to increase the base funding for UN peacekeeping.  The GOP promptly shot that down so the Democrats offered amendments to save specific missions from being under-funded (specifically, the new mission in Southern Sudan and Abyei). Alas, those too were shot down.

The GOP assault on the UN also extended to its regular budget; Representative Ted Poe proposed an across the board 25% cut to the non-peacekeeping budget. It passed.

It is worth noting how harmful a 25% budget cut to the UN would be to American interests. The United States pays about $500 million to the UN regular budget each year, which amounts to 22% of the total budget. Over the past 10 years, some of the biggest costs to the UN regular budget were the two UN Special Political Missions to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Currently, the costs for the UN political mission in Afghanistan amount to $270 million a year and the costs for the UN mission in Iraq amount to $200 million a year. This means the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan comprise almost the same amount the US pays in total for the UN regular budget. All the while, the rest of the world covers 78% of the costs of these missions.

Should the United States cut its share by 25%, the rest of the world will likely follow suit. That means fewer deminers, fewer political officers to support democracy building, fewer economic development projects and less security for these missions. Either the United States pays for this stuff unilaterally, or this important work will cease.

The mark-up will likely continue for another day or two. So far, it has shown just how much one group’s ideological pique is pushing the United States to abandon a pragmatic approach to its foreign policy.