Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Civics Lesson: Restoring funding to UNESCO.

The United States is withholding funds from UNESCO since the Organization's General Conference voted to allow Palestine membership. It is doing so because of provisions of the Foreign Relations and Intercourse Authorization passed in 1990 and 1994.

In order to restore funding
  • The authorization law will have to be changed either to eliminate the provisions or to allow the President to waive them if he finds doing so to be in the national interest. In the latter case, the president would have to issue a waiver in the specific case of UNESCO.
  • Funds would have to be included for UNESCO in the foreign affairs appropriations.
Last year the Obama administration requested the waiver authority and it has also requested the appropriation of funds for UNESCO.

The authorization legislation defines policy -- what the program is to do. It is the province of:
  • The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and
  • The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The appropriations legislation is the province of:
  • The House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations and
  • The Senate Committee on Appropriations,
The 113th Congress convened in January 2013. The response to the administration's requests will depend on the members of this session. In the Senate key committee members are likely to be:

In the House of Representatives the key committee members are likely to be:
  • Kay Granger, Republican, chairwoman of the relevant subcommittee of the Appropriations committee
  • Nita Lowey, Democrat, ranking member of that subcommittee and ranking member of the Appropruations committee itself. She is a strong supporter of Israel.
  • Harold Rogers, Republican, chairman of the Appropriations committee
  • Christopher Smith, Republican, chairman of the relevant subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs committee
  • Karen Bass, Democrat, ranking member of that subcommittee
  • Ed Royce, Republican, chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee
  • Eliot Engel, Democrat, ranking member of the Foreign Affairs committee

The Senate, with a Democratic majority, is likely to be more responsive to the Obama administration's requests; the House, with a Republican majority, is likely to be less responsive. The last session of hte Congress was marked by contentious debates and gridlock. It remains to be seen how this session will evolve.

The economic priorities of this Congress should be:

  • in the short term, to create jobs and prevent an immediate return to recession
  • in the medium term to reduce the federal deficit and improve the debt to GDP ratio
  • in the long term to invest in education, technology and infrastructure to promote long term growth.
The foreign policy priorities of the U.S. government are generally to protect the security of the United States and to promote its economy internationally. The immediate concerns will probably be the Middle East and Asia.

It seems probable that in these circumstances there will be a tendency to press for reductions in expenditures on international organizations, including UNESCO. 

The immediate concern of the Congress will be to deal with "sequestration" and the "fiscal cliff". The willingness of the members to compromise now may give some indication of their willingness to compromise during the rest of this year's legislative agenda.

In terms of the broad range of issues before the United States government, funding for UNESCO seems likely to be of low priority. The issues of Israeli policy, peace between Israel, Palestine, and their neighbor countries, and U.S. participation in international organizations will probably be seen as more urgent, and the UNESCO funding issue will probably be resolved in terms of these related issues. Still, there are a number of people working very hard to restore U.S. funding to UNESCO and they may be successful. Restoration of funding to UNESCO before the General Conference this fall is necessary to assure that the U.S. vote will be retained, and this may give some urgency to Congressional action.

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