Tomorrow afternoon, when Senate Appropriators meet to mark up the State and Foreign Operations bill, they should give the Peace Corps the full $446.15 million requested by the Obama administration and endorsed by 32 Senators. This 11.5% increase would create over 1,000 much-needed volunteer jobs in 2011 for young people fresh out of college who are struggling to find work opportunities.
Taking the long view, investing in Peace Corps is smart. It creates employment, builds fluency in languages like Arabic and Mandarin, and trains a new generation of international experts and foreign service officers, all for a bargain cost. There is a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about "smart power" and "soft power" but when it comes to funding programs like the Peace Corps, lawmakers hesitate, or they do not understand how an extra $10 or $20 million dollars is transformative (it costs just $4 million for 100 fully funded volunteer positions).
Struggling to find a champion among the Democrat Appropriators, 15,000 Peace Corps applicants are counting on Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD), a supporter and friend of Sargent Shriver, the legendary first director of the Peace Corps, to push for the full amount or offer an amendment at tomorrow's mark-up.
Finding an offset could not be easier. The House version of the bill allocates nearly $1.8 billion for embassy security construction and maintenance. The walls of the American embassies could be made a few inches less thick and we could add a thousand volunteers and open up necessary programs in countries like Haiti.
This would be a wiser usage of precious tax dollars.
While Senate staff will tell you there has been a $2 billion cut in foreign aid funding, what they neglect to say is that the overall State and Foreign Operations budget is still more than $52 billion, nearly $4 billion more than last year. Amidst the cries of "there is no money," there is in fact lots of money but other programs have stronger lobbying forces behind them.
On the Republican side, former volunteers are looking to Senator Kit Bond (MO), arguably Peace Corps' greatest champion in the Senate today. It is a scarcely known fact that support for Peace Corps is totally bipartisan.
As a senior member of the committee, Senator Mikulski can make a difference. The House was able to pass this $446 million on June 30th with unanimous bipartisan support under similar funding constraints, and the Senate can do it too, but not without a champion on the majority side.
Call Senator Mikulski today at 202-224-4654 to ask her to hold the line for Peace Corps tomorrow.