The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued this report on advocacy activities in Washington, DC during the last Congress.
Nuclear Weapons: We are happy to report that thanks to your efforts and those of many other advocates, the Senate ratified the New START Treaty with a solid bipartisan vote of 71 to 26 just days before we observed the birthday of the Prince of Peace. New START reduces the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals in verifiable ways.
Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Due to your successful advocacy efforts, companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are required to take steps, including regular audits, to ensure that the minerals used in their products are not financing militia violence in the eastern Congo. The law also allows companies to label goods as “conflict mineral-free” and directs the U.S. government to develop a strategy that addresses the links between human rights abuses and illegal extraction of minerals from the Congo. Thanks to your advocacy efforts, the prayers of the Church and people in DRC have been answered.
Accountability and Extractive Industries: In part due to your efforts, companies registered with the SEC that are involved in the extraction and commercial development of minerals, oil, and gas are also required to publish what they pay to the governments of the countries in which they work. This requirement will make it easier for civil society in those countries to hold their governments accountable for how these revenues are used and for investors to more fully take into account the risks of certain projects. Your successful advocacy efforts help ensure that poor and vulnerable people throughout the world will benefit.
Haiti: We asked you to urge Congress to provide much-needed emergency relief and funds for long-term reconstruction in Haiti. Congress passed the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP, S. 3275 and H.R. 5160) and the Haiti Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery Act (H.R. 4573 and S. 2961), and both pieces of legislation were signed by the President. These are huge victories that will help Haiti to recover and rebuild. We are deeply thankful for your support of Haiti as it struggles to recover from the devastating earthquake.
FY 2010 Supplemental Budget Request: Thanks in part to your advocacy on the Emergency Supplemental, Congress approved $ 2.8 billion for Haiti, of which $1.23 billion went to relief and reconstruction, $943 million to debt relief, and $150 million to food assistance. Of the $1.597 billion we requested for global emergency needs, Congress approved $165 million for migration and refugee assistance and $460 million for International Disaster Assistance. Although the amounts allocated for global emergency needs did not reach the levels requested by USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, in these difficult economic times the additional funds are welcome and will save lives and help protect human dignity.
A Preview of International Issues in the New Congress:
International Assistance: Although poverty-focused international assistance is less than 1% of the national budget, maintaining our nation’s commitment to poor countries and communities will face an uphill fight. The popular misperception that our nation spends 10 to 15% or more of its budget on international assistance may add to public pressures to cut what people incorrectly perceive as a “bloated” international assistance budget. Catholic advocates will need to work hard to maintain funding for humanitarian assistance, morally appropriate health services, and development programs that touch the lives of poor persons throughout the world. The changed makeup of Congress will likely make it easier to preserve “conscience clauses” and other provisions in foreign assistance programs that allow faith-based groups to be partners in delivering assistance. Maintaining the bipartisan consensus on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other programs is critical. We may also have opportunities to promote provisions that reduce poverty and enhance efficiency, promote transparency, and encourage local participation, especially of civil society.
Human Rights: Human rights and religious freedom may receive increased attention and there may be an effort to address the scourge of violence against women, especially in areas of conflict. In addition, the International Religious Freedom Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, legislation strongly supported by the U.S. bishops, will be up for reauthorization.
Trade: Trade agreements are likely to come before Congress, including the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement. Catholic advocates will want to be sure that protection of poor persons, indigenous communities, the environment and labor rights are addressed.
Urgent Situations: In addition, there will be specific advocacy related to a number of countries, especially those in conflict or suffering from natural disaster, including: Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, and Sudan. Sudan faces uncertainty as Southern Sudan holds a referendum on unity or secession in January. It will be important to promote flexible assistance to Sudan to deal with the eventual outcomes of the referendum. It continues to be important to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, security and recognition for Israel, and a viable and independent state for Palestinians, and to ask Congress to “do no harm,” e.g. denying funding to the Palestinian Authority as they struggle to build the structures of a future state. It also remains important to advocate for continued support of Haiti reconstruction and long-term development efforts, especially by the efficient and accountable disbursement of aid already appropriated. There are many other international issues that may be on the agenda, including: food security, climate change, debt relief, and torture. And there are other country-specific situations that may be addressed, including: the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Lebanon, Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
Thank you for your faith-inspired participation in the United States Catholic bishops’ efforts to advance human life and dignity. We will look forward to your continued partnership during the new Congress!