Like John Lennon, this bill’s sponsors say, “Give peace(building) a chance.”
California Democratic Rep. Barabra Lee’s biggest claim to fame was casting the lone House vote three days after 9/11 against the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Afghanistan, the country which harbored the Al Qaeda terrorist leaders who masterminded the terrorist attacks.
“I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States,” Rep. Lee said on the House floor at the time. “As a member of the clergy [at a memorial service for victims of the attacks earlier that day] so eloquently said, ‘‘As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.’’
Now, she’s introducing a proposal to steer the entire U.S. government in that intended direction.
What the bill does
The Department of Peacebuilding Act would create a new executive branch department with that name, headed by a presidentially-nominated Secretary of Peacebuilding subject to Senate approval. The proposal wouldn’t abolish or dismantle any existing department or agency, such as the Pentagon.
It would also create seven assistant secretary positions within the department, specializing in: peace education and training, domestic peace activities, international peace activities, technology for peace, arms control and disarmament, peacebuilding information and research, and human and economic rights.
It was introduced in the House on February 18 as H.R. 1111, by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA13).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the federal government focuses too much attention and money on the wrong priorities, and that the country with the second-most nuclear warheads behind only Russia should devote both more attention and money to peace.
“Each year, we invest billions in defense through the Pentagon, military academies, and national defense universities,” Rep. Lee wrote in a press release upon introducing a prior version of the legislation. “We must invest in peace — in our communities and abroad — with the same dedication, and work to dismantle the culture of violence endemic in our communities.”
What opponents say
Opponents may counter that the federal government already has at least one, and arguably two, departments devoted to peace. The Department of State is intended to advance diplomacy, while even the former Department of War in 1949 changed its name and accordant mission to the Department of Defense.
Odds of passage
Rep. Lee has introduced this bill in at least the four previous Congresses. The versions have all attracted a roughly equal number of all-Democratic cosponsors: 35 in 2013, 41 in 2015, 43 in 2017, and 38 in 2019. None of those versions received a vote in the House Oversight and Reform Committee, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats at the time.
Strangely, Rep. Lee’s 2021 version has not yet attracted any cosponsors, despite attracting several dozen every prior time. The reason for the drop isn’t clear. It awaits a potential vote in the House Oversight and Reform Committee.