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Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following remarks on the House floor late last night during debate of H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. During his statement, Congressman Berman condemned House Republicans for their irresponsible slash-and-burn tactics to cut spending in a way that seriously jeopardizes our national security and hampers our country’s economic growth.
Madam Chairman, I move to strike the last word.
Madam Chairman, it seems to me that in this frenzied competition to see who can cut the most and the fastest, we are losing all sense of reason and rationality. I am deeply concerned by what I see happening to the international affairs budget, which is contained in Title Eleven of the bill before us.
In past years, the State Department and foreign operations appropriation bill has passed with strong bipartisan support, often by an overwhelming margin. Members of both parties have understood how important diplomacy and development are -- not only to U.S. standing in the world, but to our country’s own economic growth, to American jobs, and to American national security.
They recognize that problems such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the spread of deadly disease cannot be resolved unilaterally. They know that, over the long term, the best way to create more jobs at home is to build more export markets overseas. They understand that we cannot defeat violent extremism by military means alone, and that, as Secretary Gates said last fall, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
Yet the process by which this CR has been produced makes a mockery of the responsibilities we have as Members of Congress to advance our economy and protect our national security.
First, the Republican leadership announced a plan to make $44 billion in cuts. Then we start hearing other numbers: $58 billion. $74 billion. $100 billion. Each time, it’s measured a different way, against a different baseline. And no matter how high the number goes, there are proposals to cut even deeper.
These numbers weren’t chosen because they looked at programs and said, “Here’s something that’s not working.” Or “Here’s something we don’t need to do.” No – the number was purely arbitrary, plucked out of a hat, and totally unrelated to any thoughtful calculation of what was actually needed and how much that costs.
This bill isn’t about making government more cost effective or more efficient. It doesn’t promote the kind of reforms and streamlining that are needed to ensure that our aid reaches those who need it most. It’s simply a slash-and-burn process, hacking away with a machete without consideration for all the critically important work that is being destroyed or how it affects our national security.
The base bill itself might be laughable if it weren’t so appalling. Humanitarian programs to provide lifesaving assistance – food, water, medicine, and plastic sheeting – to victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and famines is cut by 50%. Do we really intend to stand idly by as innocent men, women and children starve to death? Will we turn off our television sets when we see people’s homes and livelihoods wiped away by an unexpected catastrophe?
It’s not just disaster aid that is affected: every other program that protects the poorest and most vulnerable people is savaged. Refugee aid. Food aid. Water and sanitation. Massive cuts in international efforts to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Meanwhile, funding for the diplomats and aid workers who carry out these programs is also slashed. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years, it ought to be that we don’t just hand over money to contractors and governments without adequate oversight and accountability.
Over the past month, we have all watched the incredible events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt. The United States did not create these democracy movements and does not control them. But our diplomats did, and do, play a large role in helping to promote peaceful, negotiated solutions so that the will of the people can be heard. Our security assistance helped professionalize forces in both of those countries so that they did not crush the demonstrators with force, as has happened in so many other places. And yet, this bill and many of the proposed amendments would slash the kinds of assistance we provide to nascent democracy movements and human rights activists under other authoritarian regimes.
Somehow the draconian cuts in this bill were not enough for many in this body. Added on top of all these cuts, we now face amendments to remove ourselves completely from the United Nations, to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for Democracy and the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. Institute of Peace. They would prohibit us from taking action to address climate change and increase the availability of voluntary family planning for couples who cannot feed the children they already have. They would cut aid to countries whose support is essential to us in the areas of counterterrorism, intelligence, and non-proliferation, just because they don’t vote with us in the United Nations.
There’s one thing the authors of these amendments don’t seem to understand: Aid is not a gift. 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 as it is for them.
Madam Speaker, the cuts to international spending in this bill will not create a single U.S. job – in fact, they will cost jobs. One amendment would even eliminate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC – an agency that helps U.S. businesses compete in world markets, and actually MAKES money for the U.S. taxpayer.
This is no way to legislate. This is an irrational process that is, quite frankly, a national embarrassment, and I urge my colleagues to join me in telling the leadership: “Enough already. It’s time to start over.”