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Obama's Plan to Reduce Global Poverty

August 14, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(This is part of a series on legislation being sponsored in the Senate by presidential candidates Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ). Subscribe to our rss feed to get the rest.)

Barack Obama’s Global Poverty Act is the most commonly criticized piece of legislation that either of the presidential candidates have introduced in the Senate. It has the distinguished position on OpenCongress of being the most opposed bill of all time, and almost all of the 110 comments left by users are extremely negative. People say that it will take away a huge chunk of American wealth and send it overseas, but are their criticisms of the bill accurate?

The Global Poverty Act calls on the United States to develop and implement a strategy to achieve a set of global poverty-reduction goals, including one that was established at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. According to the bill’s summary, the goals of the strategy should be “the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.”

These are big goals, and there has been a lot of misinformation spread about the ways in which Obama’s bill seeks to achieve them. The blogosphere, which you can see a snapshot of here, has been abuzz for months about how the bill would impose a new “”“>global tax” on Americans. Even the Republican National Committee recently said that the “Global Poverty Act would raise the amount of American tax dollars allocated to United Nations’ redistribution efforts to $845 billion.”

Associating that figure with the Global Poverty Act is a mistake. The figure comes from a U.N. recommendation that developed countries should spend 0.7 percent of their GDP every year to in order to achieve the Millenium Development Goals. If the United States were to agree to this U.N recommendation, we would, in fact, spend $845 billion over the next 13 years. But, nothing in Obama’s Global Poverty Act would commit us to this spending, or, for that matter, any increased spending at all. Although one of the bill’s stated goals – “reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day” – does come straight from the U.N.‘s Millenium Development Goals, it’s only one of 21 specific targets. And it’s just the target, not the strategy for achieving it, that Obama’s bill borrows.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan agency in charge of attaching budget numbers to bills in Congress, found that the Global Poverty Act “would cost ”">less than $1 million per year."

The bill would cost so little because its methods for achieving global poverty reduction are basic: creating a set of benchmarks for reducing poverty, continuing existing United States initiatives related to international poverty reduction, improving the effectiveness of development assistance, enhancing and expanding debt relief, coordinating our efforts with other countries, mobilizing businesses, NGOs, civil society, and public-private partnerships to help with the effort, integrating principles of sustainable development, etc.

There is one line in the bill, however, that could lead to increased foreign aid spending. It directs the global poverty reduction strategy to make available “additional overall United States assistance levels as appropriate.” The case could be made that our next President will use this line to drastically increase foreign aid, but the bill is clearly focused on finding ways the U.S. can help reduce global poverty without spending more money.

The Conservative Pulse blog has a fairer criticism of the bill:

>In short, the measure is completely toothless and illustrates Obama’s supposed commitment to “ending global poverty” as nothing other than smoke and mirrors – a fact that should disappoint many Democrats. This is something that legislators can sign on to, and later advertise their poverty-ending efforts to their constituents. The Global Poverty Act is nothing more than a piece of paper that demands other pieces of paper

As such, it’s actually a non-controversial proposal. In fact, the House of Representatives, including every single Republican member, voted to pass the exact same bill by unanimous consent last September.

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