March 1 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told House lawmakers today that a Republican-proposed 16 percent cut to the agency’s budget would be “devastating” to U.S. national security and would harm U.S. efforts to compete with China for energy resources.
Defending the State Department budget request before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton said proposed cuts would force sharp reductions to programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The administration has requested $8.7 billion for programs in those countries for fiscal year 2011, on top of $47 billion for regular agency programs.
The top U.S. diplomat used the hearing to warn lawmakers against the impulse to withdraw from global engagement. She championed a combined military and diplomatic approach to foreign affairs. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s work to provide food and medical supplies to Libya, supported by the U.S. military, is an example, she said.
“This integrated approach is not just how we respond to the crisis of the moment,” Clinton said. “It is the most effective -- and cost-effective -- way to sustain and advance our security across the world. And it is only possible with a budget that supports all the tools in our national security arsenal.”
After California Republican Representative Edward Royce asked Clinton why the U.S. wasn’t jamming broadcasts by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the secretary told him that the administration is, in fact, “seriously considering” such steps.
“This is an information war, to a great extent,” Clinton said of the unrest. “And what we’ve been trying to do in the last two years is to rebuild our credibility so that what we had to say would be listened to.”
Lawmakers quizzed the secretary on topics including Qaddafi’s responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, the potential of Middle East unrest to disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and U.S. energy security. Some lawmakers questioned the wisdom of providing aid to Pakistan even as it refuses to release American Raymond Davis, who was arrested in January for a shooting in Lahore. The U.S. says Davis has diplomatic immunity.
In answer to Clinton’s assertion that cuts to the State Department could hurt national security, several Republicans argued that the nation’s deficit, which has been projected to reach $1.6 trillion this year, also represents a threat to U.S. stability.
“We’re in trouble,” said Representative Michael Pence, an Indiana Republican. “This country is going broke and we have to ask every department in this government,” with the exception of the military, to save, he said.
Senator Richard Lugar, another Indiana Republican and a longtime defender of foreign affairs funding, released a statement today warning the State Department that “at this time of economic and fiscal hardship,” all requested spending “will have to pass the acid test of whether foreign assistance programs contribute to national security and economic development.”
Clinton plans to testify tomorrow before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Lugar is the ranking Republican member.
The House committee’s Republican chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, criticized the State Department for “misplaced priorities” for investing in global health and climate change over counterterrorism. The chairwoman quoted one of her constituents in asking about the work of foreign aid. “What is the return on our investment?” Ros-Lehtinen asked.
Clinton listed the increased death and disease likely if global health programs, the largest area of State Department spending, were cut. An HIV/AIDS program set up in the administration of President George W. Bush would have to turn away 400,000 people, and 16 million people would be denied treatment, she said.
“These programs stabilize entire societies that have been devastated by HIV, malaria and other diseases,” Clinton said.
Clinton was emphatic about the value of foreign aid as a way to maintain U.S. influence overseas. The close ties between the U.S. and Egyptian militaries are due in large part to State Department programs, she said.
Her agency’s programs can help the U.S. get and maintain access to markets as well, Clinton said, citing significant energy reserves in the South Pacific. “We are in a competition with China that is unbelievable,” Clinton said.
She noted that in many places, the State Department is “the only representation of American power,” and she spoke about her desire to “build the American brand.”
“China is competing with us, Iran is competing with us,” she said. If the U.S. reduces foreign aid, “we have no lack of people who would step forward to fill the void,” Clinton said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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