What’s in the House Appropriations Committee Report That Matters to Armenian Americans?

By Bryan Ardouny

AAANews Blog

June 15,
2015

Last week,
the US House Appropriations Committee adopted the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
(SFOPS) funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which covers US assistance to
Armenia and the region. As we
reported last week
, funding for South Caucasus countries was not specifically
delineated. However, there are several points in the Committee’s Report that
matter to Armenian Americans, particularly Armenians and other Christians
at-risk in Syria and the greater Middle East. While our focus is now turned to
the Senate, below are key excerpts from the House Committee Report:

House
Appropriations Committee Report Excerpts:

– The
Committee recommendation strongly supports
Jordan
by providing not less than $1,000,000,000
to meet ongoing economic and security needs and to address the extraordinary
strain Jordan faces from unrest in
the region, including by hosting more than 700,000
Syrian refugees
.

– The
Committee notes that foreign assistance helps to advance foreign policy and
national security objectives and that such support also reflects the values,
generosity, and goodwill of the American people. The Committee understands that
disease, hunger, poverty, and displacement of vulnerable people around the
world can threaten and destabilize countries and governments and thereby
undermine the national security of the United States. To address crises around
the world resulting from large-scale displacement and instability, the
Committee recommendation maintains the extraordinary level of funding provided
for disaster and refugee assistance in fiscal year 2015. The Committee notes
that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced people now
exceeds 50 million people, the highest level in the post-World War II era. As
the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year and the security and humanitarian
situation grows more complex in the surrounding region, the Committee remains
concerned about the increasing burden and resulting instability in the
communities that host refugees and displaced persons. In addition to funds
provided under International Disaster Assistance, Migration and Refugee
Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, the Committee
recommendation provides $100,000,000
under title VIII for Economic Support Fund
to increase assistance to host
communities with large refugee populations. The Committee expects needs in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon to be prioritized.

– The
Committee recommendation includes $2,092,611,000
for Migration and Refugee Assistance
. When combined with additional funds
for Migration and Refugee Assistance provided under title VIII, the amount
recommended is the same as the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

– Minority communities.—Conflict and instability in the Middle East
and Africa intensify the challenges facing minority communities, including Christian populations. The
Committee urges the Secretary of State to ensure that eligible individuals and
families from such communities are not overlooked in the delivery of
humanitarian assistance and resettlement services.

– Syrian refugees.—The Committee remains concerned about the
plight of refugees from Syria and
the burden they face as well as the strain on host communities. The Committee
urges the Department of State to continue to do the following: (1) help host
countries expand their national systems to accommodate refugee needs; (2)
assist host country capacity to deliver basic services to their own citizens;
(3) strengthen the ability of local governments to respond to the refugee
influx; and (4) ensure that refugees have freedom of movement and meaningful
access to economic opportunity.

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $810,000,000 for International Disaster Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support humanitarian operations
in response to conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $20,000,000 for International Disaster Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support rapid response programs
to prevent and mitigate the destabilizing effects of conflict, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Middle
East and North Africa
.

– In addition
to funds provided under International Disaster Assistance, Migration and
Refugee Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, the
Committee recommendation provides
$100,000,000
under this heading to increase assistance to host communities
with large refugee populations with priority given to Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. These funds are intended to support an
integrated humanitarian and development approach to meet the requirements of
refugees and host communities and to help mitigate increased tensions between
such communities and refugees.

– Turkey.— The Committee supports strengthening Turkey’s commitment to democratic principles, due process, and the
rule of law through the continued engagement with civil society groups. The
Committee encourages the Secretary of State to further dialogue with Turkey to incorporate the importance of
media freedom, separation of powers, human rights, and the rule of law into
ongoing discussions

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $966,389,000 for Migration and Refugee Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support humanitarian operations
in response to conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

– Iraq.—The
Committee supports the request for Iraq to enhance the country’s security and
defeat ISIL. The Committee expects
the Secretary of State to ensure that assistance provided under this heading is
appropriately distributed to security forces with a national security mission
in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga.
The Committee recommendation includes language in section 7041© of this Act,
making assistance available for Iraq
to promote governance, security, and internal and regional stability, including
in Kurdistan and other areas impacted by conflict and among Iraq’s religious
and ethnic minority communities. The Committee also expects funds made
available in this title to enhance the security of Iraq’s religious and ethnic
minority populations, including
Christians
, that have been adversely affected by the conflict.

House
Appropriations Committee Bill Excerpts:

Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act shall not apply to—  

(1)
activities to support democracy or assistance under title V of the FREEDOM
Support Act 24 and section 1424 of Public Law 104–201 or non-proliferation
assistance; (2) any assistance provided by the Trade and Development Agency
under section 661 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2421);
 (3) any activity carried out by a member of the  United States and
Foreign Commercial Service while  acting within his or her official
capacity; (4) any insurance, reinsurance, guarantee, or other assistance
provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under title IV of
chapter 2 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 11 U.S.C. 2191 et
seq.); (5) any financing provided under the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945; or
(6) humanitarian assistance.

Bryan Ardouny is the Executive Director of
the Armenian Assembly of America.

The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – June 16, 2014

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By Taniel Koushakjian

June 16, 2014

HOUSE: The House will return on Tuesday, June 17 and has a busy schedule the next two weeks. In addition to Thursday’s House GOP leadership election to replace primary-defeated Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and possibly Majority Whip (more on this below), the summer of appropriations hearings is about to begin.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) has scheduled the bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which covers U.S. economic, humanitarian and military assistance to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Azerbaijan, for a markup on Tuesday, June 17 at 6PM. As we reported in the last Assembly Agenda, it is most unlikely that the House will pass all 12 appropriations bills separately, as both time and history would predict. Add to that the fact that it is an election year, Congress will probably end up passing the SFOPS bill as part of a mini-bus or omni-bus spending package before the fiscal year ends on September 30th. In early April of this year the Assembly submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Committee outlining nine key policy priorities for U.S. assistance to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh and Kessab Armenians. The full testimony is available here.

– POSTPONED: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), has postponed the hearing and vote on H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, for a later date. The hearing and vote was announced last week and was set to take place on Wednesday, June 18 at 10AM.

SENATE: The Senate returns today and, like the House, will have a full plate before the 4th of July recess. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee is also scheduled to markup the SFOPS bill for FY2015 on Tuesday, June 17 at 4PM.

With both House and Senate FY2015 bills being marked up in subcommittee this week, the full committee vote could come as early as next week. As such, the Armenian Assembly will continue to work with House and Senate appropriators at every stage of the process to ensure the best possible outcome for Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Armenians and other Christian minorities affected by the civil war in Syria.

WHITE HOUSE: #ReleaseTheRug Update: As previously reported, President Obama recently announced that he will release the Armenian Orphan Rug for public display sometime later this year. However, such a commitment has not been put in writing and no details of the event, such as time, date, or location, have been revealed. The Assembly welcomes this announcement and expects the President to honor his commitment and to release the rug for public display this year.

– WHO IS THE NEXT US AMBASSADOR? The Assembly is also monitoring upcoming ambassadorial nomination announcements from the White House for posts in Ankara and Yerevan. Both US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, and US Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, will finish their 3-year tours at the end of this summer. There is no word yet on Heffern’s successor, while John Bass, a former US Ambassador to Georgia, is rumored to be Obama’s next man in Turkey, according to Turkish sources.

THINK-TANKED: Today, two major conferences on Armenia related issues were held in Washington, DC. The Middle East Institute held their 5th annual conference on Turkey at the National Press Club (http://bit.ly/1iBixtv). This year’s special guest speaker was Efkan Ala, Interior Minister of the Republic of Turkey. This all day conference comprised of three panels featuring Turkish government officials, current and former US State Department officials, policy experts and members of the Turkish and international press.  Also, the pro-Turkey/pro-Azerbaijani Jamestown Foundation held a conference on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Repercussions for Moldova and the South Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (http://bit.ly/1lIh6y5). This two panel event featured Eurasian and Russian policy experts, former US diplomats, and foreign government officials. Noticeably absent is a representative from Armenia, which calls into question the legitimacy of such an event, despite the prestigious venue.

– MORE ON AZERBAIJAN: The Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe-US Helsinki Commission held a hearing last week on the “Security, Economics and Human Rights Dimensions of US-Azerbaijan Relations.” While the hearing largely sidestepped the Nagorno Karabakh conflict negotiations, Azerbaijan government’s bellicose rhetoric, and the escalation of violence along the Karabakh and Armenian border, in its written testimony, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny highlighted Azerbaijan’s intransigence regarding the Nagorno Karabakh peace process as evidenced by its continued cease-fire violations and ongoing rhetoric against Armenia and Karabakh, and specifically voiced the Assembly’s “support [for] the inclusion of Nagorno Karabakh in the direct talks.”

As we reported in the last Assembly Agenda, Azerbaijan recently hired former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt to lobby on behalf of the authoritarian regime. Last year alone Azerbaijan spent $2.3 million to influence Washington, rounding out the list of top 10 foreign spenders on lobbying in Washington, DC, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

ELECTION WATCH: Last week, the political world was shocked when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost the Republican primary to an unknown challenger, college economics professor David Brat. Cantor’s loss is the first time in US history that a House Majority Leader lost his seat in a primary election. Cantor is the highest ranking supporter of US reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide in the House. He is also the highest ranking Jewish American politician.

– WHAT CANTOR LOSS MEANS FOR ARMENIAN AMERICANS: With Cantor out, Armenian Americans have lost a crucial supporter of US reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. While the position of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on the Armenian Genocide bill is well known, that of potential successors is known much less. In an article about the upcoming midterm elections, I wrote back in 2013 that “History suggests that only a strong, well-respected and powerful Speaker would be able to bring an Armenian Genocide resolution to the floor of the House for a vote before 2015. One possible scenario would be that a Speaker Ryan or a Speaker Cantor could very well play that role.” Should an Armenian Genocide resolution gain momentum in Congress in the next 10 months, and should the Republican Party keep its majority this November, a Speaker Ryan in the 114th Congress would be the best case scenario for Armenian Americans who would like to see the US reaffirm its position on the Armenian Genocide before the centennial.

– WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Many had expected Cantor to succeed Boehner as Speaker of the House next year, again, should Republicans retain their majority. However, his stunning loss has created a scramble to replace him in leadership. Days after his primary defeat, Cantor announced that he would step down as Majority Leader effective July 31. House GOP leaders have scheduled a vote to elect the next Majority Leader for Thursday, June 19th. Current House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is widely expected to succeed Cantor as Majority Leader, will face off against Tea Party-backed Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). McCarthy has been endorsed by Cantor and Paul Ryan. Should McCarthy win, a race for Majority Whip opens up. Current House Majority Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL), who has a record in support of Armenian American issues, is one of three top contenders for Whip. Republican Study Committee chairman Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) is mounting an aggressive campaign to succeed McCarthy, as is Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN). Should Roskam win, a race for Majority Deputy Whip opens up. Clearly, this shake up has had a ripple effect on House GOP leadership and it could have more. If you are interested, POLITICO has a good column on the race for Whip, while Roll Call has a nice wrap-up of future GOP leaders.

– NEXT PRIMARY ELECTION: Voters in Colorado, Maryland, New York and Oklahoma will head to the polls on Tuesday, June 24 to elect their respective party nominees for November.

DAYS UNTIL ELECTION: 141

ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Since nobody got it right last time, we’ll ask it again: name the Senator who is retiring at the end of this year that previously introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution in Senate? The first person to correctly respond will get a shout out in the next edition of Assembly Agenda.

Send tips, suggestions, comments, complaints and corrections to taniel@aaainc.org. If you don’t already, please follow me on Twitter @Taniel_Shant and follow the Armenian Assembly of America @ARAMAC_DC.