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Hunger politics grow tougher

To David Beckmann, feeding the poor is a moral obligation
tied to his Christian faith as a Lutheran Minister and president of Bread for
the World.

“God is calling us to get with the program,” he said
several times this week when he and Jo Luck, president of Heifer International,
were in Des Moines, Iowa to jointly receive the World Food Prize.

He repeated it, when he met with sometimes skeptical
reporters Thursday. His organization, spends half of its revenue on grassroots
lobbying in every congressional district in the nation as well as Washington.
And it’s always been bipartisan. But Beckmann conceded that the current
political environment makes it challenging.

“We do have a very polarized political environment and
it’s a disadvantage, but these are issues that are of very broad voter
interest,” he said. Eighty percent of voters support working to end hunger, he
said.

During the Administration of George W. Bush, Bread for
the World supported Bush’s creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a
development fund that works in Africa and South America to encourage economic
growth and less corruption. Beckman said his group sought bipartisan support in
Congress from then Senator Joe Biden.

This year, it pushed for the Global Food Security Act
introduced by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Bob Casey (D-PA). It would
create a coordinator of all of the government aid agencies to put more emphasis
on food security in the developing world. It also shifts more foreign aid
dollars toward rural development and agriculture and encourages buying food
donations locally or in the region.

The Obama Administration has incorporated some of the
bill’s ideas into its own “Feed the Future” initiative that targets increased
development aid to 20 of the world’s poorest nations.

“I’m very thrilled at what the President has done,”
Beckman said Thursday. And the Administration has added its own ideas for
improving economic development and accountability that Beckman’s group also
supports.

Earlier this week he told an audience at the World Food
Prize event that “this is the first time the U.S. government has had a coherent
development policy since John F. Kennedy.”

Still, Obama’s own Democratic Congress has yet to fund
the program. The Administration has requested $1.6 billion for this fiscal year
and Congress is considering between $1 billion and $1.3 billion.

Beckmann said that his group, which is supported by
members 50 church denominations, would still like to see something like the
bipartisan Lugar-Casey bill passed, to ensure that the development effort
continues.

The bill is “dead in this Congress,” Beckmann told
reporters later.  That means
there’s no chance it will pass in the lame duck session after the November 2
elections.

Beckmann said that his group’s staff recently did  interviews with the staff of 35
Republican members of the House of Representatives, including John Boehner of
Ohio, who is expected to become Speaker of the House next year if his party
wins a majority of seats in the upcoming elections.

“We got a really good response,” Beckmann said. “Who’s
against making foreign aid more efficient?”

But so far, the Lugar-Casey bill  has taken a back seat to issues Congress
considers more pressing. The Obama Administration wasn’t against it but didn’t
really fight to get it on the Senate floor, Beckmann said.

 “There are very powerful people in our society who are
pushing other things,” he said. “Hungry people are a residual.” 

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