WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement prior to Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s testimony at a committee hearing on the Fiscal Year 2016 international affairs budget:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“Mr. Secretary, welcome back. We’re fortunate to have you as our top diplomat as we face so many challenges around the world. Whether it’s violent extremism or nuclear proliferation, health epidemics or climate change, these are challenges that threaten our security and values, and that demand robust investment in international affairs. That’s why the President has put forward a strong international affairs budget. And that’s why his proposal deserves the support of Congress.
“The President’s budget would end sequestration—something long overdue—including a 7.7 percent increase in international affairs spending.
“Why is this increase so important?
“The Kaiser Family Foundation reported recently that many Americans believe we spend much more on foreign assistance than we actually do. Here are the facts. International affairs totals just over one percent of our federal budget, and foreign aid accounts for less than one percent. With that narrow sliver of the pie, we’re keeping Americans safe, strengthening ties around the world, and promoting American leadership abroad. We’re getting a pretty good bang for our buck.
“Still, we can always be more effective, more efficient, and more focused. And I’d like to mention a few of my questions and concerns.
“Let me start with institutional and bureaucratic challenges at the State Department. We need a Department that can [adapt] to evolving foreign-policy and national-security issues. We need diplomats equipped to deal with constantly changing demands.
“Are we recruiting the best talent? Do our diplomats have the tools and training they need to do their jobs right? I’m curious about how the Department will implement the forthcoming recommendations of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.
“On our response to the Ebola outbreak, Mr. Secretary, I want to applaud you, the State Department, USAID, and the thousands of heroic Americans who have played such an important role. This crisis has required tremendous resources, and our strategy is working. The situation in West Africa continues to improve. But we must remain vigilant until this scourge has been eliminated.
“This crisis underscores the need for global health funding. Preventing future epidemics requires investment in research, infrastructure, and personnel. So I’m disappointed by proposed cuts to global health programs dealing with tuberculosis, neglected tropical diseases, and other dangerous illnesses. I’d like to find a way to avoid these cuts and keep giving these programs the resources they need.
“Turning to Ukraine, I have serious doubts that the Minsk Agreement will end this crisis. We’ve taken a handful of incremental steps, but they have not been enough to get ahead of the crisis or deter further Russian aggression. The United States has a major interest in Europe’s stability and security. Decades of American investment is on the line. I know dealing with the Kremlin is delicate, but we must not allow Ukraine to lose more territory or to fail economically.
“In the Middle East, more than 11 million people have been driven from their homes in Syria and more than 200,000 have been killed. This crisis has spilled across borders. It’s created large-scale vulnerability to sexual assault, child marriage, hunger, and other kinds of abuse and exploitation. The budget prioritizes this humanitarian disaster, but much more needs to be done by both the United States and regional partners.
“This crisis has been fueled by political instability in Iraq and Syria. The new Iraqi Prime Minister has taken some steps to make Iraq’s political system more inclusive. But we remain far from the point at which Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds feel like they have a stake in Iraq’s future.
“The way forward in Syria is even less clear, but we know one thing for certain: that country’s future should not include Assad. As you’ve said, Mr. Secretary, he is a “one man super-magnet for terrorism.” So while we are going after ISIS, or the Islamic State, we should not forget that Assad must go. He cannot be part of a Syria for the future.
“On that note, I welcome the President’s decision to send Congress a request for a new authorization to use military force (AUMF) against ISIS. The President’s proposal was a reasonable starting point, and this committee will continue our efforts to review the language and the overall strategy to defeat ISIS. I look forward to working with you and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure we get this right.
“Briefly, on Iran: I’ve said many times that my preference is a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. However, we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal. As you’ve said many times, Mr. Secretary, no deal is better than a bad deal. And so we must ensure that Iran has no pathway to a nuclear weapon, and that any deal we sign is a good deal.
“And finally, I want to commend the proposed $1.1 billion in funding to address root causes of child migration from Central America. We need to ensure that these resources are targeted toward the most vulnerable communities that the children are coming from across the sub-region.
“And finally, getting back to Europe, and Ukraine, and Russia. I really believe that NATO hangs in the balance. I think if Putin continues to push Ukraine around and threaten other countries and NATO is not a sufficient deterrent, we are sort of sending the word to Putin that we’re really a paper tiger. So I wish you would talk about that a little bit because I really do believe the future of NATO hangs in the balance. Four countries give two percent of their budget to defense, as is required, and that’s very, very troubling in terms of NATO.
“So I thank you Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to the Secretary’s testimony.”