The Senate Should Boost Economic Reforms By Approving The Middle East Incentive Fund

Our guest bloggers are Sabina Dewan, Director of Globalization and International Employment at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Jordan Bernhardt, Special Assistant with the Economic Policy team at CAPAF.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will meet this afternoon to mark up the budget for the State Department and USAID. Included in the administration’s $51.6 million budget proposal is a $770 million request for the Middle East Incentive Fund. The Senate should include money for the Fund in the budget bill it passes.

A number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa are undergoing unprecedented transitions that will either yield to free, equal and stable societies, or ones that are perpetually mired in conflict, violence and instability. The Middle East Incentive Fund is essential to help bring necessary economic and political reforms and create good jobs to promote stability, quell anti-Americanism and nudge these volatile nations towards democracy.

What’s at stake goes beyond the Arab people’s aspirations for a better life. How these nations manage their turbulent transitions has implications for stability in the region and the strategic interests of the United States.

Economic woes were a driving force behind the revolutions that began last year. For too long, too many bright Arab citizens dreamed a seemingly impossible dream of having just jobs with good pay, decent working conditions and opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families. The revolutions have created an opportunity to break the cycle of jobless growth that has plagued the region for many years.

But despite the clear need, the House Appropriations Committee chose not to include the Middle East Incentive Fund in the budget it submitted. The proposal submitted by the State Department, they said, lacked sufficient detail.

This complaint misses the point. Last year, to respond to the Arab Spring, the State Department had to raid country allotments to find money to support new programs in strategically important places like Egypt. So the projects that money was originally meant to support went dry.

By not having to draw on country accounts, the Middle East Incentive Fund would give the State Department the ability to support projects that can help address the unique needs of these nations as they navigate their difficult and fluid transitions. These funds would allow the State Department to respond better to developments in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen or elsewhere in the region.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has voiced his support. Hopefully the rest of the committee will follow suit to support this important initiative.