1. Update

This is How the Year Ends In Congress: With a Bang, and a Whimper

By Diana Ohlbaum, December 20, 2019


In a head-spinning week, Congress and the White House came to a series of agreements that avoided the possibility of a government shutdown but left peace and justice advocates with little to celebrate.

Within the space of days, the House voted to impeach the president – charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – and to provide him with increased funds and nearly unfettered authority to conduct war and circumvent congressional decisions on spending. The Senate will take up the impeachment resolution in January, having joined the House in abdicating its constitutionally-designated war powers and power of the purse.

It’s time to take a deep breath, express gratitude to all those who helped us in Congress and around the country, and prepare ourselves to renew and redouble these efforts in the year ahead.

The “bang” comes from congressional approval for $746 billion in Pentagon spending – a $26 billion increase over last year, and more than at any time since the end of World War II, save for the peak years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The “whimper” reflects congressional failure to impose meaningful limits on the use of military force or the transfer of funds for unauthorized purposes. House-passed appropriations provisions to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), restrict funding for the wall on the southern U.S. border, and restrain overspending on immigration detention and enforcement were all dropped from the final agreement.

In spite of the overall grim picture, there were some important wins to celebrate in the $1.4 trillion spending package:

  • FCNL applauded the passage of the Global Fragility Act of 2019, included in the appropriations package, which will strengthen U.S. government efforts to prevent the outbreak of violent conflict and address its root causes.
  • Congress approved increased funding for peacebuilding accounts and, for the first time ever, specified amounts for renewable energy and climate adaptation programs.
  • $75 million was provided for implementation of the First Step Act and $90 million for reauthorization of the Second Chance Act. The former will fund critical rehabilitation services in federal prisons. The latter will support grants to community-based organizations working to help the formerly incarcerated.
  • Reversing years of prohibitions, Congress approved $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to conduct vital research on the gun violence epidemic.

The progress we made this year would not have been possible without the persistent advocacy of FCNL’s engaged and active constituents. It’s time to take a deep breath, express gratitude to all those who helped us in Congress and around the country, and prepare ourselves to renew and redouble these efforts in the year ahead.

Update Relentless Advocacy  

This year, Congress finally took important, bipartisan votes to end endless war. Despite growing recognition of the need to assert congressional authority over war, lawmakers ultimately failed to do so.

Diana Ohlbaum

  • Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.