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December 31, 2017

ABA urges Congress to support essential funding for democracy, rights and governance programming

ABA President Hilarie Bass urged House and Senate appropriators this month to support continued funding for democracy, rights and governance programming as they finalize fiscal year 2018 appropriations legislation for the State Department, foreign operations and related programs.

“The United States has been able to play a critical leadership role in the world because it has, over multiple administrations of both parties, maintained a values-based foreign policy that advances the conditions for a peaceful and prosperous world,” Bass wrote Dec. 7 to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Ranking Member Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.).

She emphasized that failure to sustain and fund the values-based policy “risks ceding our leadership position to those who would remake the global order in ways that will certainly not serve U.S. interests.”

Bass pointed out that while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured the ABA in a recent letter that upholding American values remains a central focus of U.S. foreign and development policy, the Trump administration requested a 38 percent reduction of $1 billion for these efforts in its fiscal year 2018 proposed budget.

She urged the appropriations committees to consider the following provisions when they negotiate the budget and supplemental funding request.

Democracy Programs. Retain language from previous funding bills that requires that not less than $2.308 billion shall be provided for democracy programs, which support rule of law and justice sector institution building, counter human trafficking and human rights abuses, combat public and private sector corruption, and build accountable governance institutions.

Choice of Implementing Instrument. Retain language directing the U.S. Agency for International Development to implement civil society and political competition and consensus-building programs abroad in a manner recognizing the unique benefits of grants and cooperative agreements, and expand language to include programs that develop independent judiciaries and legal professions. This can be done through grants to independent U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, which are best positioned to work as true partners with local leaders, Bass wrote.

Democracy Fund. Oppose any attempts to cut funding or redirect funds away from the Democracy Fund, which promotes democratic principles throughout the world and is especially important as the United States faces dangerous threats from violent extremism and democratic backsliding in critical regions. The administration recently proposed cutting $99 million from the fund to provide emergency supplemental appropriations for disaster aid.

National Endowment for Democracy. Support a funding level of $170 million for the endowment that is included in both the House and Senate appropriations bills to strengthen democratic institutions and civil society.

Contributions to International Organizations. Support a funding level of $1.449 billion – the amount in the Senate bill – to fund U.S. dues payments for the United Nations regular budget and assessments for specialized agencies and international organizations.

Bass noted that the administration has underscored that it will prioritize U.S. interests and obtaining value for U.S. taxpayers in its foreign policy, and she emphasized that “investments in good governance and the rule of law around the world unequivocally meet these criteria.”

“Investments in preventive diplomacy and development are a fraction of the cost of military intervention required when governance fails,” she said.