The Cable

House Panel Slammed for Gutting State Dept. Funds

Advocates of the United Nations and U.S. soft power are reeling on Thursday following a vote in the House Appropriations Committee to slash funding for the State Department and a range of U.N. programs.

In a Wednesday vote on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the committee voted to cut billions out of the U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance programs. That included a 20 percent reduction in international peacekeeping and 42 percent reduction in development assistance. The Republican majority also zeroed out voluntary funding to a range of U.N. organizations including the UN Development Program, UN Women, UN Population Fund and the UN's Children Fund.

This, as you might imagine, is not going over well with advocates of foreign aid and international institutions. "Left unchanged, the House measure threatens to keep the UN from maintaining an already scaled-back operating budget, especially jeopardizing essential work at agencies like the World Health Organization and International Atomic Energy Agency," said Peter Yeo, executive director of the Better World Campaign.

Yeo emphasized the effect of the committee's $745 million allocation to the Contributions to International Organizations account, which amounted to less than half of President Obama's $1.57 billion budget request "At time when we're asking the UN do more with less-from housing and feeding Syrian refugees, to stabilizing countries terrorized by radical Islamist terrorists-the U.S. simply cannot abandon its treaty commitments and its allies."

The House vote, which comes at a time of government-wide belt-tightening, coincided with a vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee which approved $50.6 billion for State and Foreign Operations. The Senate move earned praise from like-minded advocacy groups of the Better World Campaign, such as the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

"We are grateful for the Senate's leadership today in affirming the strong return on investment America receives from our International Affairs Budget," said USGLC Co-President Bill Lane and retired General Charles Wald. "The risk of disengagement is dangerous to our security and economic interests. Without this critical funding, we will not have the tools to address global hotspots such as in North Africa and the Middle East or be able to tap into the fastest growing markets for our exports, which are in the developing world." 

So where do the two very different bills leave us? In reality, none of the legislation will likely make it to the floor given Congress's increasingly penchant to avoid passing budgets and instead opting for continuing resolutions again and again. So at some point in September or October, lawmakers will attempt to bridge the funding gap between the two bills -- leaving advocates for foreign aid and the U.N. scrambling to protect their preferred programs. Suffice it to say, it's going to be a busy fall.

The Cable

Congress Unloads on Kremlin For Snowden Aid

Despite weeks of diplomatic wrangling, Russia is poised to allow NSA leaker Edward Snowden to leave Moscow's international airport. And that has U.S. Congressmen on both sides of the political aisle fuming.

For Russia hawks and Obama administration opponents on the Hill, the Kremlin's defiance represents the latest "I told you so" moment as U.S.-Russian relations reach a new low on everything from Syria to cybercrime to human rights to orphan adoption. But even White House allies in Congress are wondering publicly whether the Snowden affair means that supposedly-reset relationship between Washington and Moscow is falling apart.

"Obviously this is a shame," Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Cable. "It really shows the naivete of the administration in thinking we could become great friends with the Russians who keep stabbing us in the back."

Rep. Tom Marino, (R-PA), who sits on the Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, went further. "As Russia continues to disrespect the U.S., the Obama Administration only further demonstrates it does not have the skills or the know-how to counter Russia's anti-America initiatives," he told The Cable.

Others in Congress less interested in taking swipes at the administration, simply grimaced at the Kremlin's refusal to cooperate on issues crucial to U.S. foreign policy.

"President Putin made it clear that he wouldn't allow Snowden to undermine his relationship with us," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Cable. "This latest action seems to counter that assertion. Russia has a choice between harboring an indicted fugitive or making an already challenging relationship that much more difficult." Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) added that Putin continues to exploit "areas of conflict for short-term domestic political gain" rather than "search for common ground with the United States." 

Though Snowden hasn't received final word on temporary asylum status, a Russian immigration official told The Washington Post the deal is imminent.  "We've seen of course the press reports and are seeking clarification from the Russian government," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday. "Obviously any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing."

The Kremlin has pointedly rejected accusations that it's been anything but cooperative with the White House and State Department. In fact, Russian officials blame Americans for rejecting previous overtures to establish an extradition treaty that would've allowed accused criminals like Snowden to be sent back home.

"I would not want to put our American partners in an uncomfortable position, but... it is Washington in the past [that has] categorically rejected numerous Russian proposals to conclude an extradition treaty," an official with Russia's Foreign Ministry told Interfax on Wednesday, in a statement relayed by Russia's Washington Embassy. The official went on to say that U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have exaggerated the number of criminals U.S. law enforcement officials previously sent to Russia at its behest. "These cases do not exist," reads a rough translation.

Psaki said Wednesday the precedent for U.S.-Russian cooperation is strong, citing "hundreds" of instances in which Russians were sent over.

Regardless, for Republicans in Congress, the diplomatic fiasco has offered an opportunity to highlight longstanding misgivings about the Obama administration's reset with Russia. "President Obama's naiveté in believing the U.S. can simply ‘reset' diplomatic relations only further illustrates that our president will continue to allow Putin to walk all over him," Marino told The Cable. Sen. John McCain took to Twitter in a similar fashion. "Keep hitting that reset button!" he tweeted.

Of course, proponents of the reset policy point to a number of first-term deals it garnered, including a New Start nuclear weapons treaty and Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.

"Things look bleak, but it's easy to forget that relations between the United States and Russia reached another nadir during the 2008 war in Georgia when there was virtually no contact between the Bush administration and the Russian government," said Andrew Kuchin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He noted that besides a New Start treaty, the U.S. also won Russian cooperation on sanctions against Iran and transit issues related to the war in Afghanistan before differences on missile defense, Libya, Syria, the Magnitsky Act and now Snowden muddled the relationship. "I always try to keep my expectations modest with the Russians," he said.