It would be an exaggeration to say that Congress has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this week to reform the policies of the International Monetary Fund. If the future is like the past, if Congress misses this opportunity, another one will come along - in about 10 years or so.
This week, House and Senate leaders are meeting in a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the supplemental appropriations bill. The Senate version of the bill is likely to include $100 billion and new authorities for the IMF, but the House version of the supplemental bill did not include funds for the IMF. The Senate is debating amendments now as I write. The conference committee will almost surely meet soon after Senate passage; the stated goal is to pass the supplemental before the Memorial Day recess.
Concrete, observable reforms of the IMF's policies in poor countries should be part of any agreement: there should be no "blank check" for the IMF. The IMF is imposing policies in developing countries we wouldn't accept in the U.S. - when we have a recession, our government spends money to help the economy recover, as we did in President Obama's stimulus package. When developing countries have a recession, the IMF demands budget cuts. With Democrats in charge in Washington, the IMF - in which the United States has overwhelming influence - should not be imposing Republican economic policies. In particular, the IMF should not be imposing Republican economic policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, since that fundamentally undermines the quest for political stability in these countries. It's the height of self-defeating absurdity to appropriate US tax dollars for reconstruction and development in these countries while with the other hand - the IMF hand - we tell them that their governments can't stimulate their economies.
What happens in the conference process is largely controlled by key leaders on particular issues. Regarding the IMF, what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chris Dodd, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey do will greatly determine whether the IMF will get a blank check or will have to implement meaningful reforms. In the past, Pelosi, Dodd, and Lowey have been leaders on issues of World Bank and IMF reform, international debt relief, HIV/AIDS, and global health.
If you care about these things, now would be a good time to pick up the phone. If you live in Connecticut, call Senator Dodd: (202) 224-2823. If you're a constituent of Rep. Lowey in New York, call her office: 202-225-6506. Otherwise, call Speaker Pelosi's office: (202) 225-0100.
When you speak to the receptionist, you could say something like the following:
"My name is ___________ and I'm calling from _______________[city/state]. In the conference committee on the supplemental, [Speaker Pelosi /Senator Dodd/ Congresswoman Lowey] has the power to be a champion for reform of the IMF's policies which have limited access to health care and education in poor nations and poor country debt relief. I urge [Speaker Pelosi/Senator Dodd/Congresswoman Lowey] to include language in the conference report that ensures IMF agreements do not impose contractionary, recession-worsening policies as they currently are doing, which is resulting in rising unemployment and the closure of hospitals and schools. Thank you."
More information can be found here.