The Cable

Ros-Lehtinen targets several State Department budget items

House Foreign Affairs chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has responded to the  president's fiscal 2012 international affairs budget request, recommending the elimination of over a dozen State Department and foreign aid programs.

"Those who complain about potentially diminished levels of International Affairs funding need to ask themselves how much less an insolvent United States of America would be able to do," Ros-Lehtinen wrote to House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan in her official response to the administration's 2012 budget request, which was obtained by The Cable. "It is no longer sufficient to ask whether a particular activity is useful. Rather, the correct question is whether a given activity is so important that it justifies borrowing money to pay for it."

She said the administration's separation of State Department funding between regular budget accounts and the war-related account known as "overseas contingency operations," (OCO) obscures what she calls the "dramatic and unsustainable" funding increases for diplomacy and development over recent years. The OCO account includes money to help the State Department assume increased responsibilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which totaled $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2010.

Ros-Lehtinen said that when all the money requested is totaled, it equals $61.4 billion -- or a 13 percent increase over fiscal 2010 levels.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the entire State Department and USAID fiscal 2012 budget request, which can be found here, seeks just over $47 billion, a 1 percent increase over fiscal 2010 levels. The president is requesting a grand total of $50.9 billion for U.S. diplomacy and development efforts, after accounting for programs outside State and USAID, such as the Peace Corps, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. That's $3.7 billion -- or 6.7 percent less -- than the $54.6 billion that was requested for the same accounts in fiscal 2011.

Obama is also requesting $8.7 billion in supplemental funding for the State Department and USAID in fiscal 2012 under the OCO account, a $2.3 billion increase over the fiscal 2011 request.

Ros-Lehtinen criticized several items in the administration's budget request. She said the State Department's $12 billion request for operations was too high, and pledged to fight "locality pay" increases for foreign services officers, which were passed in 2008 to account for differences between what diplomats receive abroad as compared to when they live in Washington.

Ros-Lehtinen also recommended cutting off assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which would save $225 million, and cutting off economic assistance to the West Bank and Gaza, a savings of $400 million. She also recommended ending funding for the Asia Foundation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the East-West Center.

As for foreign aid, Ros-Lehtinen wants to freeze the number of direct hire employees at USAID and take $2.9 billion away from the organization, returning it to fiscal 2008 levels. She also wants to end foreign aid to countries who give out foreign aid of their own, including China, India, Brazil, and South Africa.

Some other targets of Ros-Lehtinen's budget axe include global health programs, global climate change programs, the Peace Corps, the Organization of American States, the United Nations Development Program, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In an attached dissenting letter from the committee's ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), he defended the administration's request as part of an integrated national security spending strategy.

"In a world characterized by great turmoil and uncertainty, the budget request represents the resources needed to protect Americans and American national security interests around the world," Berman wrote.

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The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Libya, Libya, Libya, and more Libya

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's briefing by spokesman Mark Toner:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the World Bank offices in Washington Tuesday in honor of World Water Day. The theme this year is "Water for the Cities--Responding to the Urban Challenge." Other speakers at the event included World Bank President Robert Zoellick, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Hilton Foundation CEO Steven Hilton. Clinton's remarks are here.
  • Clinton did not talk to her French counterparts Tuesday but did speak over the phone with Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba, a member of the African Union. Why talk to Bongo? "It was certainly to discuss Libya and to recognize their help," Toner explained.
  • Toner confirmed that the U.S. and Turkey have signed an agreement to establish Turkey as America's "protecting power" in Libya, following the evacuation of the U.S. embassy there. "We're indeed very grateful for Turkey for accepting that role," Toner said. "We're also extremely grateful for Turkey's efforts to get four missing New York Times journalists safely out of the country."
  • No comment on France's proposal to create a new "political steering committee" made up of western and Arab foreign ministers to run the Libya war. "I'm not going to discuss it here. That's for discussions that take place at NATO," Toner said. "We've said all along that we're going to transition into a broader coalition. I think what that coalition looks like and -- including its structure -- is still being discussed and evaluated."
  • Toner confirmed that the western forces are enforcing the arms embargo and that there is still fighting going on in Benghazi as well as in several other small cities. "And so they're taking steps. And those include, obviously, you know, boarding ships and cutting off that mercenary supply and that arms supply that's been fueling the Libyan army," he said. Toner is not aware of any military aid to the Libyan rebels.
  • The State Department is having just as much trouble as the White House explaining how the military mission can be limited to protecting civilians while the overall U.S. policy is to call for Qaddafi to step down. "It's absolutely our policy. What we really want to see here is a delegitimized leader who has turned weapons against his own people step aside," Toner said. "There is a transitional national council in the east that represents, we believe, the opposition's aspirations. And we ultimately want to see a democratic process take place that, again, recognizes the aspirations of all the Libyan people."
  • Clinton told ABC news that there are signs people in Qaddafi's inner circle are breaking with the regime, but Toner said he wasn't aware of that. "I don't have any clear indications that that's happened," he said. "I mean, again, we're extremely limited... We have no eyes and ears in Tripoli. I mean, we now have a protecting power, but we don't have a mission there."
  • How long will it last? "I can't predict an end date right now," Toner said.