Will the 113th Be Lucky for Global Education?
by Allison Grossman, RESULTS
Here in our nation's capital, the city is preparing for President Barack Obama's second inauguration. The parade route has been marked. Tickets to the inaugural balls have been secured for a few (thousand) lucky ones. The crowds are preparing scarves and hats and gloves help keep warm while they trek down to the National Mall for the festivities on Monday.
But while the pundits are busy predicting what the President will say in his inauguration speech, the work - or at least the partisan bickering - in Washington continues. The members of the 113th Congress were sworn in on January 3, really just hours after the 112th Congress passed The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on New Year's Day. This very last minute vote prevented the United States from tumbling over the so-called fiscal cliff, while at the same time postponing more difficult fights into February and March. (You can read about what the deal meant for foreign affairs on the RESULTS blog.)
As we begin this new congressional session and presidential term, it is challenging to know what the current political environment means for foreign affairs as a whole, and for U.S. global education programs specifically. Here are a few things to watch out for amidst the rhetoric that could have a big impact on the future of education for millions of children around the world:
Budget and Appropriations: You can't turn on the news these days without hearing about the impasse between President Obama and Congressional Republicans on how to address our national debt. There are two looming deadlines that the government must address over the next few weeks: the debt ceiling and sequestration. While we have actually already reached the debt ceiling, Treasury has implemented some fancy accounting measures to keep us going for another few weeks. And with the deal made at the beginning of the year, Congress pushed back the implementation of sequestration from the beginning of January until March 27.
March 27 also happens to be the date that the current fiscal year 2013 Continuing Resolution ends, meaning Congress also must address appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year, either through another continuing resolution or an omnibus appropriations bill. (The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition has a great summary of these scenarios in their latest budget round up.)
While we still don't know whether House Republicans will force a shutdown of the government or allow the country to default by failing to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for cutting spending, it is clear that these issues, while big, will also have a substantial impact on U.S. global education programs. If sequestration goes into effect, these accounts could be cut by 8 percent. Over the last two years, the overall International Affairs account has already been cut by 15 percent. Sequestration or additional disproportionate cuts will even further put lives and futures of the poorest at risk.
Leadership Changes: In both the House and the Senate, the makeup of committee membership changes with each congressional session. And in the 113th, we're seeing some big changes in the committees that oversee global basic education funding and legislation.
In the House Appropriations Committee, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY 18), our global education champion on the Hill, takes over as Ranking Member (i.e. lead Democrat). She has also retained her spot as top Democrat on the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for basic education.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has undergone perhaps one of the biggest changes, with 14 new Republican members and 10 new Democrats, many of them freshmen members of Congress who have little experience with foreign affairs. Leadership has changed on both sides of the aisle, with Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA 40) taking over as Chair and Democrat Eliot Engel (NY 18) moving into the Ranking Member slot. Royce is largely seen as more moderate and willing to work across the aisle than his predecessor, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL 18), leaving us more optimistic about moving legislation like the Education for All Act through the committee.
On the Senate side, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has become the first woman to ever chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. She is also a strong supporter of foreign aid and global education, ensuring an ally for us at the top of this key committee.
There have also been significant changes on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Four new Republican members have joined, including several members that have spoken out against foreign aid in the past - most notably, Senator Rand Paul (KY). But with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) replacing longtime leader Richard Lugar as Ranking Member, we at least know a supporter of foreign aid will be leading the Republicans. With Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) very likely confirmation as Secretary of State coming soon, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is the presumptive Chair of the committee. Two new Democrats with strong personal and professional histories on foreign aid are also joining, Senators Chris Murphy (CT) and Tim Kaine (VA).
So within this new environment, what can we accomplish in the 113th Congress to move forward global education?
• First and foremost, we must work to protect the International Affairs account, which includes basic education funding. As constituents and advocates, it is our responsibility to speak out for the future of these programs and the millions of children that benefit from them. You can learn more about the International Affairs budget and how to write to your member of Congress about protecting these critical programs here.
• With every dollar scrutinized these days, we will continue to advocate for the U.S. to spend its education dollars in the most effective way possible. This includes increasing the U.S. contribution to the Global Partnership for Education in 2013 and in 2014, as Congresswoman Schakowsky and 70 members of Congress called for last year.
• It is time to push for passage of the Education for All Act, a critical bill meant to increase the effectiveness of U.S. global basic education programs. We are looking to continue working with Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressman David Reichert (R-WA 8) in the House as well as new champions in the Senate to move this bill forward. Watch out for updates and how you can take action in the new Congress.
Allison Grossman is the Senior Legislative Associate at RESULTS.