The foreign exchange program that won't die may now be on life support.
The House passed an amendment Tuesday to defund the Open World Leadership Center, a Congress-run exchange program with Russia and post-Soviet countries, by a 224 to 199 vote. Instead, the $5.7 million in savings will be transferred to the spending reduction account. The vote marked another reversal of fortune after a committee markup last month, where the program had seen its funding restored by another amendment vote.
This Congress-run exchange program isn't new to a fight for survival—nor is the fight over, as the Senate could still decide to fund the program. The program has a history of facing cuts or elimination in the past 15-plus years, but the center has always lived to see another year.
Rep. John Ratcliffe sponsored the amendment that passed Tuesday. "In this fiscal environment, we have to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars and we have to scrutinize every program that we allocate money towards," the Texas Republican said on the House floor.
Open World brings judges, emerging civic leaders, educators, and more from Russia and post-Soviet countries to the United States for short visits to learn about democracy. And some lawmakers said on the House floor Tuesday that this mission remains critical.
"The value of hands-on, from-the-ground-up diplomacy is the lesson that can't be learned from a book," Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California said. "Open World experiences show these participations that democracy is not just a dream, it is actually a working reality, one they can have in their home countries if they work at it and America shows them."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the House Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee's top Democrat, said on the floor that this would be the first time she opposed a cut to the Open World Leadership program—but for a very different reason. It's because the funds would be sent out of the cash-strapped Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.
The Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hasn't released a version of its spending bill.
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