Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to defend President Obama’s FY’12 budget request for the State Department and USAID. After opening statements from Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) and Clinton, the committee immediately jumped to a marathon question and answer session—bringing the hearing to a near 4-hour mark. Most of the questions from Republicans and Democrats focused on the revolutions in the Middle East, particularly Libya. Secretary Clinton used this context as a jumping off point to make an eloquent defense of U.S. assistance and development programs and generally how the situation makes it even more important that we use every tool in our national security strategy to affect change.
In her opening statement HFAC Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Administration for not doing more to foster the democracy movements in the Middle East, saying “We have failed to effectively use our resources to help build strong, accountable institutions that protect basic human rights.” Ros-Lehtinen discussed the UN Human Rights Council and called for conditioning U.S. funding: “Just as administration officials talk about smart power and smart sanctions, when it comes to the U.N., we need smart withholding.” She also challenged the Administration to consider its “mis-placed priorities” arguing, “The Administration should not propose massive increases in global health and climate change while cutting key programs like counter-terrorism programs.” After running through some constituent letters that ask “what is the return on our investment?” Ros-Lehtinen closed with a forceful message: “Our funding baseline has to change. The real question is not, is this activity useful? But rather, is this activity so important that it justifies borrowing money to pay for it and further endangering our nation’s economy?”
Ranking Member Berman, in contrast, strongly defended the President’s request arguing, “…although the international affairs budget makes up only 1 percent of the entire federal budget, it funds some of the most essential elements of our national security.” He called the State Department’s first-ever QDDR a “responsible approach to achieve savings” which he noted stands in stark contrast to the appropriations bill passed by House Republicans yesterday, saying, “Their bill isn’t about making government more cost effective or more efficient. It doesn’t promote the kind of reforms and streamlining needed to ensure that our aid reaches those who need it most, in the most efficient possible manner.” He went on, “The United States provides foreign assistance because it serves our interests. Helping countries become more democratic, more stable, more capable of defending themselves and better at pulling themselves out of poverty is just as important for us, our national security and our economic prosperity as it is for them.”
Clinton opened saying, “The American people are justifiably concerned about our national debt. I share that concern. But they also want responsible investments in our future that will make us stronger at home and continuing our leadership abroad.” She then described key investments in the international affairs budget such as funding for civilian missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, sustaining strong engagement in other hostile regions like Yemen, and investments in human security—specifically global health, food security and climate change. Clinton commented, “We have focused on hunger, disease, climate change and humanitarian emergencies because these challenges not only threaten the security of individuals. They are the seeds of future conflicts.” She also discussed the ways in which this budget makes “foreign policy a force for domestic economic renewal and creating jobs here at home” adding, “we are working aggressively to promote sustained economic growth, level the playing fields and open markets.”
Stay tuned for more updates on Secretary Clinton’s tour of Capitol Hill.