House Panel Advances Bill to Cut State Department Budget

A House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee has advanced a spending bill that would cut the State Department’s 2018 fiscal budget by 14 percent compared to this year’s budget.

The proposed cuts are less than the 37 percent cut over several years proposed in the Trump administration’s budget.

Ahead of Tuesday’s mark-up, Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican, encouraged support for the $47.4 billion dollar budget, which includes funding for the State Department and Overseas Contingency Operations.

“This bill will target funding to where it’s needed the most, ensure U.S. dollars are being put to good use to expand democracy and peace, and provide critical humanitarian assistance in war-torn, disaster-affected, and impoverished areas or the world,” Frelinghuysen said.

State and Foreign Operations subcommittee Chairman Hal Rogers, also a Republican, asked other members of the panel to support the bill.

“This bill strikes the appropriate balance of fiscal responsibility and support for United States diplomatic engagement and foreign assistance,” Rogers said.

Lowey troubled by budget

But the Appropriations Committee’s ranking Democrat, Nita Lowey, said she is deeply troubled, both by the president’s request, and the allocation for this bill, which is $10 billion below the total enacted in fiscal year 2017.

“While the bill rejects many of the most extreme cuts proposed in the president’s budget, the cuts in this bill would make regions less stable and diminish our global leadership by severely reducing or eliminating funding for programs such as multilateral cooperation, international family planning and climate change,” Lowey said.

Asked what level of budget cuts the State Department supports, a department official told VOA: “Secretary Tillerson and the State Department continue to support the President’s FY [fiscal year] 2018 Budget Request, which includes $37.6 billion for State Department and USAID programs. The FY [fiscal year] 2018 request for the State Department and USAID will advance our foreign policy goals, while ensuring we are using U.S. taxpayer dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

But Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has said the Senate would never approve drastic cuts to State’s budget.

Former envoy disagrees with cuts

Some former U.S. diplomats also oppose the cuts. Former U.S. ambassador and veteran diplomat Laura Kennedy told VOA many Americans are not aware of the great work U.S. Foreign Service officers and consular officials are doing around the world.

“There has always been a strain of isolationism throughout American history which is particularly virulent now. The world is indeed a complex and scary place and there may be a sense that we will be better off if we can retreat behind our walls. That doesn’t work,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the president may have influenced House members.

“Unfortunately, I think there is a particular animus toward State on the part of President Trump which has certainly been communicated to the House,” she said.

The spending bill will now go to the full House Appropriations committee for a vote next Wednesday. The spending bill would have to be approved by both the House and the Senate before it goes to the president for his signature.

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