The Cable

White House to Congress: Don’t cut any more than necessary

The White House laid out a detailed list of programs that it does not want Congress to cut, and threatened to veto any spending bills that slashed investment to programs it favors.

"If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical domestic priorities or national security through funding levels or language restrictions, contains earmarks, or fails to make the tough choices to cut where needed while maintaining what we need to spur long-term job creation and win the future, the President will veto the bill," Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew wrote in an Oct. 19 letter to the leaders of the appropriations committees, obtained by The Cable.

Lew wrote that Congress should not cut discretionary spending more than required by the deal struck to raise the debt ceiling, as enshrined in the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which requires a $7 billion reduction in discretionary spending compared to fiscal 2011 levels.

"The nation needs to do more to reduce the deficit, and the President has offered a detailed blueprint for more than $3 trillion in additional deficit reduction, but disregarding the BCA agreement and cutting already-tight discretionary program levels even further would be a serious mistake," Lew said.

He then laid out a long list of programs the White House doesn't want cut, or wants funded to the levels suggested by the Democratic-controlled Senate rather than the GOP-controlled House. For example, Lew said Congress should support full funding for the Affordable Care Act (AKA: Obamacare) and fund the Race to the Top educational program and Pell Grants at the Senate's proposed levels.

Lew also called on Congress to support implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Food Safety Modernization Act, and to fully fund nutrition programs for children. The Environmental Protection Agency should be funded at least to fiscal 2011 levels, he wrote.

The White House also wants Congress to know that it "strongly opposes ideological and political provisions in these bills." It defines those as any provisions that would restrict implementation of the White House's legislative successes, undermine health or environmental issues, or "abandon settled approaches to divisive social issues."

On national security, Lew wrote that the White House supports the Senate's version of the State and Foreign ops appropriations bill, which is about $5 billion higher than the House's version. The White House also supports the Senate's proposal for defense funding, which amounts to a freeze in the defense budget this year.

"The President believes that civilian and military power are inextricably linked, and that effective deployment of tools in a coordinated and flexible way is fundamental to meeting the whole of our national security priorities," wrote Lew. "The budget, therefore, must build military strength and smart civilian security programs, domestically and around the world."

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The Cable

Leaving Iraq: What about the refugees?

When President Barack Obama and senior administration officials proudly announced that all U.S. troops in Iraq would leave by the end of the year, there was no mention of the millions of Iraqis who were forced to flee their homes by the U.S. invasion or the thousands who risked their lives by working directly for the U.S. military.

"It is wonderful that American troops will finally be able to come home, but we must remember that for the nearly three million Iraqis displaced by the war, returning home is still not an option," said Becca Heller, director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center.

The U.S. neglect of Iraqi refugees -- especially those who can no longer live in safety in Iraq due to their work with the U.S. military -- is not a new phenomenon.  Your humble Cable guy has met dozens of Iraqi refugees over the years, mostly women, who had somehow managed to secure a rare special visa to enter the United States, but this status has been offered to only a fraction of those who helped the U.S. military by working as guides or translators.

Most of those refugees were living in the United States without jobs, permanent residences, or any financial support from the U.S. government. Many were wholly dependent on the kindness of the soldiers they had worked with in Iraq, who felt an obligation to aid them. Some even married those soldiers.

As early as 2007, The New Yorker and other outlets were reporting about the herculean efforts U.S. soldiers had gone to in order to help their Iraqi staffers flee to safety, even creating an "underground railroad" to bring Iraqis to the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan, because the Baghdad embassy would not process their visa requests.

The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) took up the issue of Iraqi refugees, introducing a resolution to expand the available number of visas and pressing the State Department to streamline the process for those who sacrificed on behalf of the U.S. effort. He had some success, but died before finishing the work.

Four years later, advocates are still pressing the administration to issue all the visas it can to help Iraqis resettle in the United States and then help them get on with their new lives.

"The United States failed to honor its commitment to Iraqi refugees this year, admitting less than half of the 17,000 refugees we had promised to help. This includes thousands of Iraqis whose lives are at risk, or family members have been killed, as a direct result of their work as interpreters and drivers with U.S. forces in Iraq," Heller said. "The U.S. must continue to honor its obligations to the Iraqis for whom withdrawal is not an option."