The Cable

Coburn proposes cutting $190 billion from international affairs budget over 10 years

Today seems like a popular day for attacking the State Department and foreign assistance budgets, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) doesn't want to be left out. As part of his plan to cut $9 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, he's proposing that nearly $190 billion be cut from the international affairs accounts.

"When the American people are asked what government spending should be cut in order to balance the federal budget, foreign aid programs generally top the list," Coburn writes in the opening to the chapter on the State Department and foreign operations in his new plan.

Coburn has never been a fan of the State Department and regularly proposes amendments to defund foreign operations programs. But never before has he assembled all of his ideas for international affairs funding cuts into one succinct document. And even though Coburn's plan will likely never be implemented in full, some of the State Department targets in his sights could find their way into any grand budget deal struck between the administration, the Democrats, and the GOP.

"Proponents of foreign aid sometimes argue that it represents only 1 percent of the federal budget (actually closer to 1.5 percent), and that eliminating all of it would not solve our nation's fiscal problems. That is true, but it is true of every other area. And just as other chapters of this report show how other budget lines have wasteful, duplicative and low-priority spending, the Department of State and its Foreign Operations budget is no different."

Here are some highlights of the savings he seeks:

  • Diplomatic and Consular Operations - $22.75 Billion
  • USAID Operating Expenses - $6 Billion
  • Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs - $5.3 Billion
  • Voluntary Funding for the United Nations and the UN Tax Equalization Fund - $22.4 Billion
  • The Asia Foundation and the East-West Center - $465 Million
  • Internation Clean Technology Fund - $3.3 BILLION
  • National Endowment for Democracy - $1.3 Billion
  • End Foreign Aid for Countries that Own Billions in US Debt - $18.3 BILLION
  • Consolidate Global Climate Change Funding - $15.4 BILLION
  • Consolidate Development Assistance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation - $17 Billion
  • Consolidate Regional Development Organizations with the World Bank - $7.9 Billion
  • Reduce Economic Support Funding - $42 Billion
  • Reduce Funding by 20 Percent to the World Bank - $3 Billion Over Ten Years
  • Reduce Foreign Military Financing - $2.5 Billion Per Year: $27 Billion

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The Cable

HFAC to propose cutting aid to Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to mark up a fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign assistance authorization bill July 20, which proposes sweeping changes to the security assistance provided to several governments that have rocky relationships with the United States.

The draft version of the bill, obtained by The Cable, would prevent the allocation of any funds that fall under the State Department's jurisdiction to the government of Pakistan until the administration can reassure Congress that Pakistan is assisting with the investigation into who helped hide Osama bin Laden, a step that will include making bin Laden's relatives available to the U.S. government. Islamabad must also demonstrate that it is not holding up visas for U.S. personnel who are set to go to Pakistan and not diverting U.S.-provided weapons for purposes other than fighting terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

That would effectively defund the Kerry-Lugar aid program, which allocated $1.5 billion in fiscal 2012 and another $400 million in foreign military financing. $800 million in U.S. aid was also suspended earlier this month -- but those funds came from the Pentagon's coffers, not the State Department.

The bill would also prohibit the use of any State Department funding to assist the government of Lebanon until the White House certifies to Congress that no member of Hezbollah or any other terrorist group serves in a policy position in the Lebanese government -- a step that would currently be impossible, because Hezbollah is a major coalition partner in the current government. The Obama administration would also need to certify that Lebanon's security services are free from Hezbollah members, that all Lebanese government ministries are financially transparent, and that the Lebanese government is dismantling all foreign terrorist organizations, which includes Hezbollah

In other words, no foreign military financing or international military education and training (IMET) funding for Lebanon would be permitted if this bill, authored by HFAC Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), were to become law.

Similar restrictions on funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA) make it equally unlikely that any State Department assistance to the Palestinian Authority would be allowed. The bill would condition the aid on the president certifying that the PA is doing several things, including that they have "halted all anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian Authority-controlled electronic and print media and in schools, mosques, and other institutions it controls, and is replacing these materials, including textbooks, with materials that promote tolerance, peace, and coexistence with Israel."

Funding for Yemen would also face a series of difficult restrictions, including the stipulation that the president must certify that the Yemeni government "is not complicit in human rights abuses." Hundreds of protesters have been killed since the 5-month old uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is still recovering in Saudi Arabia.

Ros-Lehtinen's bill doesn't stop at restricting foreign assistance to countries that have fraught relations with the United States. The bill would also set into law that it "shall be the policy of the United States to uphold and act in accordance with all of the reassurances provided by the President in an April 14, 2004, letter to the Prime Minister of Israel."

That's a direct swipe at Obama's May 19 declaration that Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations should be based on 1967 borders with agreed swaps. The bill would also require the State Department to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

On China, Ros-Lehtinen's bill would call for a U.S. consulate in Tibet and a Tibet interest section in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. It would also eliminate the East-West Center in Hawaii, a think tank studying U.S.-China relations, and prohibit funding for the U.S.-China Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security that the two countries agreed to establish in January.

The bill also includes language on reinstating the "Mexico City Gag Rule," which would prevent funding for any non-governmental organization that discusses abortion. Republican members of HFAC are also expected to introduce amendments on everything from the United Nations to Libya.

Of course, the bill could change before Wednesday's markup. In fact, this is only the latest of several drafts that have been provided to The Cable over the last couple of weeks. We're told that this draft is close to what the final version that will be presented to the committee.

But that doesn't mean the bill will become law any time soon. Assuming the House leadership gives the bill floor time, it would still have to be reconciled with a version being drafted by the Senate. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by John Kerry (D-MA), isn't about to put forward a bill that contains such dramatic limits on the Obama administration's foreign policy.

HFAC staffers insist that they want to devise a strategy for their bill to become law by working with the Senate.

The last time a State Department authorization bill actually became law was 2005, although the House did pass one in 2009. Regardless, insiders see the bill as guidance for House appropriators, who plan to mark up the State Department and foreign assistance appropriations bill July 27. That bill could actually become law if Congress ever resolves the current budget crisis and tackles government funding levels for next year.

For those readers out there who aren't budget geeks, the authorization bill simply sets out policy and is not binding when it comes to dollar amounts. The appropriations bill sets funding, and as such actually places money in the State Department's coffers.

And for those out there who are budget geeks, give this a closer look. If you find any other noteworthy provisions, e-mail your humble Cable guy (and budget geek) at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

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