This was a vote on a motion made by Rep. Kirk (R-IL) to send the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the State Department back to committee with instructions that would have reduced the funds for the Organization of American States (OAS) by $15 million, and increased funds for the National Endowment for Democracy by the same amount. The National Endowment for Democracy is a private organization, funded primarily through an annual congressional allocation, which provides grants and publishes periodicals. It has reportedly been accused by both right-wing and left-wing groups of interfering with foreign regimes, and of being a mechanism that legally enables the CIA to continue its otherwise prohibited activities of support to selected political parties abroad.
Kirk criticized the OAS for inviting Cuba back into the organization and for leading support for the former Honduran president, who had recently been overthrown in a military coup, “even after his supreme court ruled that he could not extend his term.” Kirk argued that “we should reduce the increase for the OAS, which doesn't know if it supports democracy, and give that money to the National Endowment for Democracy, which does.”
Rep Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who co-sponsored the motion, claimed: “(R)ecent events call into question the commitment of the OAS to its historic values of democracy and human rights.” She noted that the United States “is footing 60 percent of the entire budget bill for the OAS while that organization pursues an agenda of appeasement toward repressive governments in the hemisphere . . . The National Endowment for Democracy has a long record of fighting for fundamental freedoms, for democracies around the world.”
Rep Lowey (D-NY), the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081, opposed the motion. She argued that the OAS “is the preeminent multilateral organization in our hemisphere. It helps resolve or minimize many threats, including terrorism, narcotics, and political conflicts. It also plays an important role in promoting sustainable development in Central America, supports the election process in places like Ecuador, Paraguay, Haiti, and El Salvador.”
Lowey added that “(W)hile we may not agree with every issue and every member in the OAS, it is the key conduit for discussions among all of our hemispheric partners. We have made an international commitment as a member of OAS to pay our dues. Cutting our assessment payment will create arrears and undermine the work of the Secretariat, located here in Washington. The OAS is an international organization, and the United States has a legal commitment to provide our assessed contribution. The OAS is the only regional organization in the Western Hemisphere that has all of the democratically elected members of the region, and all of them strive to enhance and secure democratic principles and values . . .”
Rep. Berman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee also opposed the amendment. He said that he wanted “everybody to understand the party proposing this motion to recommit is the same party that held the White House for 8 years where our policies and relationships towards the entire Latin American region so degraded our reputation and our effectiveness that they should be embarrassed to make suggestions.” He also claimed that, although he is a “great fan of the National Endowment for Democracy . . . I tell you they don't want this amendment to pass.”
The motion was defeated by a vote of 192-233. One hundred seventy-two Republicans and twenty Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and thirty-one Democrats and two Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, no funds were shifted from the OAS to the National Endowment for Democracy, and the House moved to a vote on final passage of the 2010 State Department funding bill.