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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 the Trump Administration’s proposed draconian cuts to the international affairs budget:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I have got to get you to the Bronx one of these days.  Anyway, thank you Mr. Chairman.  To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We’re grateful for your time and expertise.

“I must say that I find myself deeply troubled by the direction American foreign policy is heading. Members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle have worked hard to advance American diplomacy and development efforts. We may not always agree 100 percent of the time on the best way forward, but I like to think we all see the value in robust, bipartisan support for American international affairs.

“So I’m sure other members were shocked, as I was, 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 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 end up on the chopping block.

“And then last night, we learned that the Administration is seeking $2.8 billion in cuts to the international affairs budget—not down the road, but right now.  I can just imagine an American diplomat sitting at a negotiating table who gets passed a note saying, ‘Sorry, our funding for this meeting just ran out.’

“But 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?

“The answer is simple: the military.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always supported a strong national defense.  But I also support using military force only as a measure of last resort.  We should not send American servicemembers 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 those 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.

“Development helps to lift countries and communities up today, so they can become strong partners of us 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 weren’t 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.  The chart behind me shows how it actually stacks up. One point four percent. Less than two percent.  And if we make that sliver of the pie even smaller, it will come back on us in spades.

“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.

“Fortunately, the Congress is a coequal branch of government. We decide how much to invest in our international affairs, not the White House. 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. I don’t understand this willingness to play footsie with Vladimir Putin. I think that we know him for what he is.

“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.”