Tibet funding programs have long enjoyed bipartisan in the U.S. Congress. For almost two decades, the House and Senate, whether under the control of Democrats or Republicans, have funded a variety of program to help Tibetans inside Tibet and in exile (see list of programs here).
These programs face a threat, however. It is not from eroding support. It is not due to Chinese pressure. It is because of a new push to limit or scale back government spending as concerns grow over federal deficits. We need your help to protect these vital programs that help Tibetans.
Controlling spending has moved to the top of the agenda in Washington. The drive to cut spending gained major steam after Republicans captured the House of Representatives, and shrank the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, in last November’s election. In his State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed to freeze spending and eliminate programs that don’t work. In the Republican response, Rep. Paul Ryan, who can set spending levels as the new Budget Committee chairman, said, “a few years ago, reducing spending was important. Today, it’s imperative.”
While the budget debate hasn’t yet got down into specifics, we have seen broad outlines. Just this week the House passed a resolution to return spending to the levels in Fiscal Year 2008. The House Republican Study Committee, a conservative faction, has proposed a set of deeper cuts and would eliminate of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which funds the grants program for sustainable development and cultural preservation in communities on the Tibetan plateau.
What does all this mean for Tibet? A little perspective is in order. In the last few years, total spending on the seven Tibet line-items has been around $14-17 million annually. This amounts to a mere 0.0001 percent of the overall discretionary budget. Clearly, America isn’t going to balance the budget (or pay off the $900 billion in debt owned by China) by cutting Tibet programs.
But if these cuts are implemented across the board, Tibet programs could face the axe. For example, a return to the Fiscal Year 2008 level would result in a $2.4 million cut for Tibet programs – a cut of 15 percent!
What can we do? The old adage of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is apt. Budgeteers on Capitol Hill need to hear from you about the value of these programs, and how they have improved the lives of Tibetans and given them for a better future.
Join us for Tibet Lobby Day (February 28-March 1), if you are able. Engaging face-to-face with your senators and representatives is the most effective way of getting your point across. If you cannot attend Lobby Day in person, we will provide resources so that you can call or e-mail your Members of Congress on these days to amplify the message.
As the budget cycle proceeds this year, I will provide updates on hoe the Tibet programs are faring and what you can do to lend your support. We need every Tibetan-American and Tibet supporter to raise their voice with Congress!