Ros-Lehtinen's Gauntlet

01/28/2011 04:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Don Kraus Senior Fellow, Citizens for Global Solutions

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the new Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has thrown down her gauntlet. In her first briefing as chairwoman, she had the opportunity to focus on any number of timely issues like the referendum in Sudan, human rights in China or reconstruction in Haiti. Instead she chose "The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action," to launch an attack against the U.N. She plans to introduce legislation that conditions U.S. contributions to the U.N. "on real, sweeping reform, including moving the U.N. regular budget to a voluntary funding basis."

This is a very bad idea. Didn't the U.S. suffer though enough loss of prestige and influence during the bad old days of massive U.N. arrears in the 1990's? Unfortunately, powerful House members are once again going after the U.N. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) declared that the "U.N. should be a prime target" for deficit reduction efforts. Ridiculous! Fiscally this would have the same impact as withholding my daughter's allowance to pay down our family's mortgage. The U.S. deficit and contributions to the U.N. are not in the same league. But for Rohrabacher and too many of his colleagues, the U.N. is a convenient target they can try to bully while scoring political points.

I anticipate attempts to dramatically slash funding for the U.N. and international affairs in Congress, despite the reality that the world needs the U.S. to play a key role in meeting some of the most important global problems we all face. The total international affairs budget, which accounts for only 1.4 percent of total government spending, supports programs to meet challenges like the HIV/AIDS pandemic, genocide prevention, fragile states, extreme hunger and poverty, and environmental degradation, among many others. Our nation cannot afford to shortchange these vital programs.

In fact, the international affairs budget is a great bargain. Our investments in peacekeeping, poverty eradication, disease prevention and international organizations help boost international security, reduce the need for U.S. military intervention and make America safer in the long run.

However, too many Americans continue to vastly overestimate the amount that we pay for these benefits. According to a new poll, Americans believe that 25% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. When asked what would be a reasonable amount to spend, the median response is 10%. In fact only a little over 1% of our budget goes to foreign assistance.

So how do we turn the coming tide of anti-U.N. sentiments? The answer is in your hands. This is the moment when we must pull together to send a clear message to lawmakers that the U.S. must stay constructively engage in the U.N. and the world. You can help by taking three simple steps:

1. Help us build a solid network of global citizens by connecting us with friends and family, particularly those who live in parts of our nation where there lawmakers are educationally challenged regarding the U.N. Just send their contact information to

2. Join our Citizens for Global Solutions' Partners for Global Change program. This is an engaging, easy way for you to make a difference on the global issues that matter to you. By becoming a Partner, you will join a network of activists (of all ages and all levels of experience) who take action in their communities. The goal is to build national political will for positive U.S. global engagement. Join at

3. Come to Washington, D.C. on March 17 and 18 and join me at Citizens for Global Solutions' Annual Conference and lobby day, Global Challenges: Global Solutions. Get engaged and learn more.

Together, we can pick up Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's gauntlet and let her know that this challenge will be answered by engaged global citizens. I look forward to working with you.