Thursday, March 01, 2012

Obama Administration Seeks UNESCO Waiver Legislation

I strongly support this legislation! The United States should be supporting UNESCO's role in Education for All. We should be supporting UNESCO's efforts to improve water science, biodiversity science, earthquake science, and other natural sciences. We should be supporting UNESCO's efforts to foster the conservation of the world's cultural heritage. We should be supporting UNESCO's efforts to promote freedom of the press and protect the safety of reporters. Most of all, we should be supporting UNESCO's efforts to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. The law denying President Obama the power to waive a two decade old provision of the budget act, even if the waiver is in U.S. foreign policy interest, is outdated and counterproductive.

In the UNESCO General Conference last year, Palestine was elected as a member state over the opposition of the United States. According to a provision of law a couple of decades old, the United States was then required to withhold its contributions to the Organization. Doing so has created a major problem for UNESCO in that the United States pays a portion of the UNESCO regular budget roughly proportional to the U.S. portion of the global GDP, in this case 22 percent. Funds began to be withheld with the final payment of dues for 2011, and are being withheld now.

The Obama administration plans to seek legislation to permit the President to waive the provision requiring withholding of those contributions. It is normal to allow the President to waive such provisions when it is appropriate to the foreign policy of the United States to do so. This is in keeping with the foreign policy responsibilities assigned to the president in the Constitution, and allows for more timely changes than would be possible through the Congressional process of revision of the legislation.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia., have announced that they will oppose that legislation. Both apparently feel that it is more important to show support for Israel in its negotiations with the Palestinians than to support the educational, scientific and cultural activities of UNESCO.

Secretary of State Clinton meeting with
UNESCO Director General Bokova
UNESCO not only implements a broad program promoting international cooperation in these fields, but it also is carrying out a number of U.S. funded projects, many of which are important to U.S. security interests and all of which have been undertaken at the initiative of the United States government. (See About the U.S. and UNESCO and U.S. Contributions to UNESCO.)

Interestingly, both Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Ackerman face redistricting, threatening their previously secure seats in the House of Representatives. The legislatures in each state will be revising Congressional districts in keeping with the changes in population revealed in the 2010 census.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami), will be based in a new District 27, centered around her Miami hometown and no longer including the Keys which were the core of the district which she represents currently. In Florida a Representative need not live in the district which he/she represents, but most do.

Representative Ackerman too is facing shifts in the borders of the district that he represents. It is reported that it's possibile that Ackerman will see his district extend into a district now represented by his congressional neighbor and fellow Democrat Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island.

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