Advocacy Update, Week of Sept. 9, 2017: Senate Fully Funds Peace Corps

Senate Rallies to #ProtectPeaceCorps

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday unanimously voted to fully fund the Peace Corps at $410 million for fiscal year 2018, giving the Peace Corps a strong vote of confidence and its advocates nationwide and on Capitol Hill the opportunity to negotiate with the House for level funding of the agency. Both chambers will now conference—or negotiate—their budget differences, with Members likely deciding on a Peace Corps number sooner rather than later to make way for controversial items, buying the Peace Corps community more time to convince the House to meet the Senate's mark. In July the House met the President's proposal of $398.2 million for the Peace Corps.

The Senate's bill sustains the record-high level of funding the agency received in fiscal year 2016, which would better enable the Peace Corps to pursue its goal of fielding 10,000 Volunteers and providing improved Volunteer support services.

NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst thanked and recognized the Peace Corps community in a press release:

"The Senate’s work to save the Peace Corps from cuts is the result of all of our efforts. Our champions in the Senate—Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Johnny Isakson, Senator Dianne Feinstein and many more—have demonstrated once again their commitment to America’s leadership on the world stage, and the Peace Corps’ critical role in that leadership. NPCA’s partners, especially Liz Schrayer and her team at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and Shirley Sigawa and her team at Service Year Alliance, have been indispensable to the cause. This good news would not have been possible without them.

"But you—the Peace Corps community—led the charge. NPCA’s Advocacy Coordinators, Affiliate Group leaders, Advisory Council, and the many thousands more of you who met with your Members of Congress on Capitol Hill or in your districts, wrote Op-Eds and Letters-to-the-Editor and letters and postcards, made phone calls, tweeted and posted, have all contributed to this major step forward. Your incredible efforts will be needed even more in the days ahead."

Under the leadership of Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Fiscal Year 2018 Bill provided strong levels of funding for the Peace Corps' partner agencies, including USAID and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), especially considering the subcommittees difficult job of maintaining funding levels despite having less overall funds to work with. Sen. Graham's sobering report language for the bill noted the need for America to maintain its soft power tools, saying in the introduction: "The lessons learned since September 11, 2001, include the reality that defense alone does not provide for American strength and resolve abroad. Battlefield technology and firepower cannot replace diplomacy and development." 

A Loud "No" On Effort to Slash USAID 

Shortly after the Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the State-Foreign Operations bill an effort to cut USAID in half was well underway on the Senate floor. Shortly before the Hurricane Harvey Relief Bill—which included a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through Dec. 8 and an extension on the debt ceiling—came to the floor for a vote, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment to offset $15 billion in Harvey relief funds by slashing USAID by the same amount, or about half of the agency's budget. Rather than voting on the amendment, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allowed a vote to table—or effectively kill—the bill, making a "yes" vote a "no" vote on the amendment itself. Thanks in large part to a quick and effective mobilization from the international affairs advocacy community, including NPCA Advocacy Coordinators, the motion to table the amendment passed 87-10, a strong bipartisan show of support for a Peace Corps implementing partner. 

The Harvey Relief Package was subsequently passed by the Senate and the House, and was signed into law by President Trump Friday evening.

Push to the Finish Line

NPCA's goal remains full funding of $410 million for the Peace Corps for fiscal year 2018. NPCA will continue to inform and equip the Peace Corps community until a fiscal year 2018 spending bill is signed into law by the president. Stay engaged with your Affiliate Groups and Advocacy Coordinators, and stay on the lookout for NPCA’s e-news for updates and actions.

House to Lose Another Peace Corps Champion

On Friday, Rep. Charlie Dent, a consistent Peace Corps ally on the agency's appropriations subcommittee, announced he would not seek re-election to serve an eighth term for Pennsylvania's 15th District. As a member of the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and Co-Chair of the Tuesday Group Caucus—an informal group of approximately 50 moderate Republicans—Rep. Dent has been a strong voice for the Peace Corps and American soft power. Since visiting with Peace Corps Volunteers in the field in Tanzania in 2015 on a Congressional Delegation with former Rep. Sam Farr and other House members, Rep. Dent signed the annual Peace Corps Dear Colleague Funding Letter, a rare step for an appropriations subcommittee member. Saying in a press release that he never planned to serve more than five or six terms, Rep. Dent has represented the Lehigh Valley area since 2005. Rep. Dent's announcement comes the same week that Rep. Dave Reichert, a former Peace Corps Dear Colleague co-signer and Tuesday Group member, announced that he too won't seek re-election for Washington's 8th District of Seattle's suburbs, and follows the announcement in April that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, long a vocal advocate for the Peace Corps and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will retire at the end of her term, ending a 35-year career representing the Miami area, most recently for the 27th District.