Committee Lawmakers Join Ranks to Pass ‘Carefully Crafted’ State Dept. Authorization Bill

By Patrick Goodenough | June 28, 2012 | 4:32 AM EDT

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and ranking Democrat Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.) during a meeting on February 29, 2012. Also visible is New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith (Photo: House Foreign Affairs Committee)

( – Putting pragmatism above principle, Republican and Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined ranks Wednesday to mark up a State Department authorization bill omitting the usual raft of country-specific and other provisions that have proven contentious in past years.

The move was designed to end a decade-long failure by the committee to see a State authorization bill become law.

Passed by voice vote in about a minute, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 provides $1.55 billion for assessed contributions to the United Nations and other international organizations and a further $1.828 billion for peacekeeping.

Both figures are the same as the amounts enacted in FY2012, and below the administration’s FY2013 requests for $1.57 billion for international organizations and $2.098 for peacekeeping.

During a markup meeting Wednesday that was over in about 17 minutes, members of both parties praised the spirit of bipartisanship that enabled a quick passage of legislation the committee hopes will end up signed into law for the first time since 2002.

Failure to do so for the past decade had eroded the committee’s foreign policy leverage, said committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

She described the legislation as “a carefully crafted bill which focuses on those basic funding and operational authorities on which we have been able to reach bipartisan agreement.”

“By adopting this bill this morning, the committee strengthens its role and exercises effective oversight of the Department of State and fulfills our obligation to the American public.”

The need for the committee to assert its jurisdiction once again over the State Department’s funding and operations was also stressed by ranking Democrat Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.).

“If we want our committee to be taken seriously, so that our jurisdiction is protected and our views carry weight with other committees, then we need to report legislation that at the very least can be passed by the full House,” he said.

Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) was among those who remarked on “having a markup this smooth, this uncomplicated, lacking in controversial policy riders, bringing us together on a bipartisan basis,” and commended Ros-Lehtinen and Berman and their staffs for their efforts.

The bill marked up Wednesday was a mere 76 pages long.

In contrast, the FY2012 bill was 294 pages long, and contained scores of country-specific provisions, statements of policy and sense of Congress resolutions dealing with concerns including the treatment of religious minorities in Egypt, Vietnam and Turkey, sex-selective abortions, assistance to the Muslim Brotherhood, and calls for the U.S. to press the European Union to maintain its arms embargo on China.

U.S. aid to Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority was made conditional on those government’s behavior regarding terrorism and other policies.

Other provisions in the FY2012 bill restored the “Mexico City policy” – which prohibits aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions – required the U.S. to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and defunded the Organization of American States.

One provision sought to bar funding for any government that opposes the U.S. position at the United Nations more often than not – a requirement that if enacted would potentially have ruled out funding for some two-thirds of the world’s countries, including nine out the 10 top recipients of U.S. aid in FY2010.

After lengthy deliberations, the FY2012 bill passed the committee by a 23-20 vote last July, but never made it to the full House, let alone to the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The committee hopes this time will be different.

“While no doubt all of us have pressing things we want to say about U.S. policy toward a wide range of countries and problems, I respect the chairman’s view that progress on asserting our jurisdiction is paramount and that there will be other business meetings and other markups where those kinds of proposals can be considered on their merits,” Berman said Wednesday.

A policy provision that did make it into the FY2013 bill was one supported by members from both parties:  The State Department’s existing Rewards for Justice program, which offers rewards for information leading to the apprehension of leading terrorists, will be expanded to include members of transnational organized crime groups and individuals wanted for serious abuses including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who authored the provision, identified as a key target Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“U.S. military advisors working in Central Africa consider a reward offer on Kony as critical to their effort,” Royce said. “They need this tool in the field now.”

President Obama last October sent 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to advise regional armies in the fight against the Kony and his LRA.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow