“Aid to others is not a gift. The United States provides foreign assistance because it serves OUR interests.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee hearing entitled “Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities and Needs Amidst Economic Challenges”:

Madam Secretary, thank you very much for being with us here today.

We appreciate this opportunity to discuss the International Affairs budget, and the various policy initiatives you have championed as Secretary of State.

Madam Secretary, in these challenging economic times, it is critical that we make the most of every taxpayer dollar.

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.

I know you are committed to getting the most “bang for the buck”. In the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review -- completed last December under your leadership -- the State Department places a welcome emphasis on improved monitoring and evaluation of programs, increased transparency of aid projects, and on aligning priorities and resources.

With all due respect to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, the responsible approach taken in the QDDR to achieve cost savings stands in stark contrast to the Republican appropriations bill passed by the House two weeks ago.

The reckless cuts in that legislation 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 total level of reductions was purely arbitrary, plucked out of a hat, and totally unrelated to any thoughtful calculation of what was actually needed and how much that should cost.

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. It’s simply a slash-and-burn process, with no consideration for all the critically important work that is being destroyed or how it undermines our national security.

The bill savages nearly every program that protects the poorest and most vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance for victims of natural disasters –Pakistan, Haiti, I could go on and on – is slashed by 50%. Massive cuts in Refugee aid. Food aid. Water and sanitation. And programs 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 other governments without adequate oversight and accountability.

Madam Secretary, the supporters of the Republican bill overlook two critical facts.

First, as you, Secretary Gates, and our senior military leadership have said repeatedly, America’s national security depends not only on our men and women in uniform, but also on the diplomats and aid workers who risk their lives every day to support America’s interests abroad.

In fact, 15% of the fiscal year 2012 international affairs budget request is dedicated to supporting critical U.S. efforts in the frontline states of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the face of mounting deficits here at home, it is important to remember that these civilian efforts are much more cost-effective than deploying our military.

And second, aid to others 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, our national security, and our economic prosperity as it is for them.

The more we slash our foreign assistance, the more we cede the playing field to China – which is more than happy to fill the vacuum in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Madam Secretary, over the past month, we have witnessed a stirring series of popular revolutions across the greater Middle East.

As Americans, we are inspired to see the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries rise up to fight for the universal values that all of us hold dear – freedom, democracy and human rights.

We all hope that the upheaval in the Middle East will lead to a brighter future for the people of the region. But we must also guard against the possibility that these movements for change will be hijacked by those determined to restore an autocratic form of government -- or by forces hostile to the United States and our allies in the region.

Madam Secretary, as we all know, the Iranian regime is continuing its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability – and this remains one of the most pressing foreign policy challenges facing our nation and the international community.

When you testified before this body two years ago, you pledged that the Administration would pursue “crippling sanctions” against Iran. And we have certainly moved in that direction. Last year, the Obama Administration had unprecedented success in building diplomatic support for tougher sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council.

And Congress followed by passing the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act – the most rigorous sanctions ever imposed on Iran.

That legislation – which was signed into law eight months ago today – helped galvanize international opinion on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and lay the groundwork for other countries to impose their own national sanctions.

Madam Secretary, we appreciate the fact that you have pursued the Iranian nuclear threat with great urgency, and look forward to working with you to ensure that our sanctions laws are fully implemented – including against Chinese firms that, as you have indicated, continue to engage in sanctionable activity.

My concern is this: We have not yet sanctioned any non-Iranian bank or energy company, even though we know several are engaged in sanctionable activities. Companies need to know that there are consequences for these types of activities. So far, no company has any reason to think there are such consequences.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation for the Administration's recent veto of a Security Council resolution targeted at Israel, which was a powerful re-affirmation of your support for Israel and for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, leading to two states living side by side and a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Once again, it is a pleasure to have you with us today, and I look forward to your presentation.