While bipartisan efforts in Congress can seem few and far between, policymakers from across the ideological spectrum point to the tenth anniversary of the Millennium Challenge Corporation as evidence they can find common ground when addressing global development.
"It’s one of the few places, frankly, left in Washington where that spirited bipartisanship continues to exist and drive forward,” White House counselor John Podesta said at a Nov. 18 event celebrating the organization's 10 years.
At the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, more than 400 people gathered to honor the MCC, which was created by an act of Congress in 2004. The crowd included lawmakers, diplomats, and members of President Barack Obama's administration, the global development community and the private sector.
The MCC is an independent government agency aimed at providing aid to developing countries with a focus on incentivizing economic development and democratic changes, while holding the countries receiving grants accountable.
The Republican and Democratic lawmakers who attended the reception stressed continued support for the agency, which depends on congressional appropriations to facilitate its partnerships.
"As I work hard as an appropriator now and as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee to get MCC funded and authorized, it is my hope that we will give it expanded regional compact authorities and we will steadily improve the level of investment in MCC," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said. "I think it is a time-tested and proven model for how, in a bipartisan way, we can approach the challenge and the opportunities of development in this century."
Coons was not the only appropriator who addressed the reception in the expansive courtyard. House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said she makes a point to oversee the agency and understand whether American taxpayers' money is being spent effectively.
"This is a tremendous challenge for the MCC because you have to show all of us, all of our partners, all of our taxpayers," said Lowey, "that you’re on the right track and you can do a good job."
“When we look at the record of this development tool, we see that it has achieved three things," House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., told CQ Roll Call. "It has leveraged for democratic governance, for empowerment of civil society in Africa, and it’s achieved the goal of having those governments invest in the people in Africa because that is mandated through the legislation.”
According to its fiscal 2014 financial statement, the MCC received $898 million from Congress last year. For fiscal 2015, the president requested that $1 billion be allocated to the agency.
Despite issues with poverty, unemployment and income inequality at home, the lawmakers said investing in global development is also in the interest of the United States because doing so strengthens national security.
"If we’re going to have less demands in our military and a safer world, we need countries that have sustainable economies and can deal with legitimate concerns of the populace," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said.
Lowey said the interconnectedness of global economies and cultures, evidenced most recently by the outbreak of the Ebola virus, demonstrates the need to invest in other countries.
"We’re all living in a global economy and we can’t live in isolation," Lowey told CQ Roll Call. "Ebola is a perfect example. The kind of potential terrorist attacks that could occur here, is a wake-up call to everybody that we can’t live in isolation."
Proponents of investing in global development argue that enabling poor nations to thrive will allow them to confront those challenges on their own.
“While we don’t fight Ebola specifically, MCC builds the infrastructure that is necessary for countries to be able to fight Ebola in the future,” said Alicia Phillips Mandaville, MCC's chief strategy officer.
With the goal of advancing U.S. interests, encouraging democratic governance and spurring development in impoverished nations, President George W. Bush first proposed the idea for the MCC in 2002. Bush advocated for "a new compact for global development, defined by new accountability for both rich and poor nations alike."
Over the next two years, the MCC was developed through legislation — which Bush signed in January 2004. A board of directors led by the secretary of State, including the Treasury secretary and the U.S. trade representative, governs the agency. MCC's chief executive officer must also be confirmed by the Senate.
The agency is capped at 300 staff members, and by relying on congressional funds, the MCC staff is continuously making the case to lawmakers that their funds will be spent wisely.
"We’re a small agency and so it’s a close relationship,” Mandaville said when asked about the agency's work with Congress. "What we can do around the world is directly related to our appropriation ... And so that’s why the relationship with bipartisan support is so important."
To enhance that relationship, the MCC focuses on achieving results. Over the past 10 years, the agency has entered into 27 compacts with 25 countries, approving more than $8 billion in aid to enhance agriculture and transportation infrastructures and increase access to health care and education.
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