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- As Delivered –

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on foreign aid budget cuts on the House floor:

“Well thank you, Mr. Speaker.  And as the Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I join with my colleagues.  I want to thank the gentleman from Texas, Congressman Castro, who’s a valued member of our Committee, for his leadership on this Congre-critical issue.  And also the gentleman from New Jersey, Mr. Sires.  I agree with everything that they’ve said here before about these draconian cuts.

“I’m here because I’m rising to strongly reject the Trump Administration’s draconian cuts to the international affairs budget.  Two and a half months into the Trump Administration, I find myself deeply troubled by the direction American foreign policy is heading on many fronts.

“But, I was particularly shocked when the White House released its Fiscal Year 2018 budget calling for a 31 percent cut to American diplomacy and development efforts.  In my view, cutting the international affairs budget by even a fraction of that amount would be devastating.  We haven’t seen many details, but a cut that drastic would surely mean that too many efforts and initiatives that do so much good would wind up on the chopping block.

“And here’s the bottom line: slashing diplomacy and development puts American lives at risk.  If we no longer have diplomacy and development as tools to meet international challenges, what does that leave?  It leaves the military.

“Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve always supported a strong national defense, and I do support our military.  And I do support giving them more money. 

“But I also support using military force only as a measure of last resort.  We should not send American service members into harm’s way unless we’ve exhausted every other option.  If we’re not investing in diplomacy and development, we aren’t even giving these other options a chance.

“We rely on diplomacy to resolve conflicts across negotiating tables, at multilateral gatherings, and in quiet corners, so that we don’t need to resolve them down the line on the battlefield.  Our diplomats work to strengthen old alliances and build new bridges of friendship and shared understanding.

“Just last week, the Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Trump Administration’s efforts to decimate our international affairs budget.  In his testimony at the hearing, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said that morale at the State Department is—and I quote him—‘at its lowest point in my memory.’  Unquote.

“It is deeply disturbing, disturbing to hear that our diplomat—many of whom serve in dangerous places at high risk to them and their families—are so disheartened.

“Of course, it is not just former diplomats who reject these cuts.  A recent letter signed by more than 120 retired generals and admirals to House and Senate leadership said—and I quote—‘We urge you to ensure that resources for the International Affairs Budget keep pace with the growing global threats and opportunities we face.  Now is not the time to retreat.’  Unquote.

“So, Mr. Speaker, I ask that, ask that this letter be included in the record in its entirety. Thank you.

“In 2013, Secretary of Defense Mattis similarly said—and I quote him—‘If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.  So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio.  The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.’  Unquote.  That’s from Secretary of Defense Mattis.  I couldn’t agree with him more.

“Now, I believe that development helps lift countries and communities up today, so they can become strong partners on the global stage tomorrow.  A lot of us think we have a moral obligation to help cure disease, improve access to education, and advance human rights.

“But even if it were not the right thing to do, it would be the smart thing to do, because those efforts lead to greater stability, more responsive governments and stronger rule of law, populations that share our values and priorities.  Poverty and lack of opportunity, on the other hand, provide fertile ground for those who mean us harm.

“All these efforts, by the way, cost cents on the dollar compared to military engagement.  People think international affairs and foreign aid are a massive chunk of the federal budget.

“But, the chart right over here next to me shows how it actually stacks up.  1.4 percent.  And we make that sliver of the pie even smaller, if we do that, it will come back on us in spades.  1.4 percent of our federal budget goes to all these programs.

“The diseases we don’t combat will reach our shores.  The communities on which we turn our backs may be the next generation of people who mean us harm.  And the conflicts we fail to defuse may well grow into the wars we need to fight later, at a much higher cost in terms of American blood and treasure. 

“Just imagine having to tell the parents of a young American soldier that their son or daughter was killed in battle because we weren't willing to spend the tiny sums needed to prevent the conflict.

“So, finally, let me say that the American people don’t want to see us slash diplomacy and development.  In fact, recent data shows that 72 percent of Americans believe the country should pay, play a leading global role.  Nearly six in 10 believe funding levels at the State Department should stay the same or increase. 

“Fortunately, the Congress is a coequal branch of government.  I want to remind that to the Executive Branch.  We in Congress decide how much to invest in our international affairs, not the White House.

“For example, regardless of how this Administration is playing footsie with Vladimir Putin, Congress will devote resources to push back against the Kremlin's efforts to spread disinformation and destabilize our allies—just like they did to the United States during last year’s election campaign.

“So I’m hopeful that as we move forward with next year’s spending bills, we continue to provide our diplomatic and development efforts the support they need and the support they have received under Republican and Democratic Presidents alike.

“With the President’s proposed cuts, I fear what message we’re sending to the world.  The United States is the global standard bearer for freedom, justice, and democracy.  If we cede our role as a global leader, make no mistake: someone will step into the void—it could very well be another power that doesn’t share our values or our interests, think Russia or some country like that.

“So, we cannot allow that to happen.  I’m committed to ensuring it doesn’t.  And I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to firmly reject President Trump’s cuts.

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker and thank the gentleman from Texas.”