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Omnibus Bill Defeated; Congress Will Vote On Continuing Resolution To Fund Government Through March 4

Senate Republicans defeated the proposed omnibus package on Thursday and Senate appropriators over the weekend fashioned “a short-term continuing resolution [CR] to fund the federal government for fiscal 2011,” National Journal reports (Sanchez, 12/18).

The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the CR deal, which would “fund the federal government through March 4, setting the stage for a budget fight early next year, when Republicans will wield more power,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Congress has failed to pass legislation to fund the government for the full fiscal year that began Oct. 1, relying instead on several short-term measures. The most recent one expires on Tuesday, and a failure by Congress to approve new funding by then could lead to a government shut-down,” the newspaper writes. The House must also approve the measure (Holzer/O’Connor, 12/20).

Ahead of last week’s vote, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement warning that if Congress does not pass the omnibus, the resulting cuts “would sharply cut our funding and severely weaken the [State] Department and USAID’s ability to execute our critical civilian missions,” Foreign Policy’s blog “Madam Secretary” reports (Aroon, 12/17).

“The omnibus provides critical funding to achieve our key national security objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan; provides sufficient funding for the transition in Iraq; funds vital development programs including global health, food security, and climate change; and gives us the necessary resources to respond to humanitarian emergencies,” Clinton said in the statement. “The entire budget request for State and USAID represents less than one percent of the Federal Budget, and the funding in the omnibus is billions of dollars below the request,” the statement notes. It goes on to list items that would receive funding from the bill, including programs to “stop global health pandemics.”

“This budget represents more than financial allocations. It represents essential priorities, new approaches, and a renewed commitment to use the resources of the State Department and USAID smartly and strategically to get the best possible results for the American people,” according to the statement (12/16).

In related news, Clinton said Friday during a speech at USAID’s headquarters that she is worried about some Republicans’ calls to cut foreign aid, the Associated Press reports (12/18).

“I’ve been distressed, as I’m sure many of you have, to read recent comments in the paper from some present and future congressional members about cutting foreign aid and doing away with it and all the rest of it,” she said, according to a State Department transcript. Clinton was at the agency to discuss the recently released Quadrennial Diplomacy and Defense Review (12/17).

In a blog post examining calls to reduce foreign aid funding levels, PBS NewsHour’s “The Rundown” blog notes the recent comments by incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Fla.). Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “As Congress sharpens its scalpels, then, it’s important that it distinguish between foreign aid that ‘just’ does good and foreign aid that also has strategic consequences, and that it make protecting the latter a priority.”

Laura Hall, also with the Council said, “People want to see the rest of the world do well. But, they want to see the money used wisely and know that our assistance works and that it addresses our interests and values as well” (Sullivan, 12/17).

Foreign Policy Examines How The Child Marriage Bill Was Defeated

Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” examines why a bill aimed at preventing child marriage in the developing world did not pass Congress. The blog highlights Ros-Lehtinen’s role, writing that she defeated the bill “by invoking concerns about the legislation’s cost and that funds could be used to promote abortion.”

The blog notes: “Non-governmental organizations, women’s rights advocates, and lawmakers from both parties spent years developing and lobbying for the ‘International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act’ … The bill failed even though 241 Congressmen voted for it and only 166 voted against, because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) brought it up under ‘suspension of the rules.’ This procedure has the advantage of not allowing any amendments or changes to the bill, but carries the disadvantage of requiring two-thirds of the votes for passage.”

“So what happened? Ros-Lehtinen first argued that the bill was simply unaffordable. … Regardless, the supporters still thought the bill would pass because House Republican leadership had not come out against it. But about one hour before the vote, every Republican House office received a message on the bill from GOP leadership, known as a Whip Alert, saying that leadership would vote ‘no’ on the bill and encouraging all Republicans do the same. … ‘There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws,’ the alert read.”

According to the blog, the bill did not “contain any funding for abortion activities,” and also reported that “federal funding for abortion activities is already prohibited by what’s known as the ‘Helms Amendment.'” The post looks at reaction from the bill’s supporters in Congress (Rogin, 12/17).