State: GOP budget cuts would hurt our Libya response

State: GOP budget cuts would hurt our Libya response

Republican proposals for cutting the international affairs budget would harm the U.S. ability to respond to the political changes and humanitarian crises throughout the Arab world, according to two top officials dealing with the issue.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit the region since the tide of revolutions swept across the Arab world in January. She will also visit Tunisia and meet with leaders of the Libyan opposition. One senior official from State and one from USAID who just returned from the region are warning that now is the wrong time to slash funding for diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and refugee assistance, as House Republicans are proposing.

"We have, around the world, ongoing humanitarian responses to protracted situations, situations that are not emergency but are protracted and require our engagement, and we have emergency situations, and we have accounts for both.  And it is the future funding of both of those accounts that are so seriously imperiled by some of these proposals," said Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Eric Schwartz at a Monday press conference.

The U.S. government has sent teams to the Tunisian and Egyptian borders of Libya to asses humanitarian needs and help coordinate the response. 140,000 migrant workers have streamed across the Libyan border with Tunisia, and about 110,000 people have headed east into Egypt, Schwartz said. The United States has also chartered flights to bring these migrants back to their homes, flying workers to third countries .

 "We will do what is necessary," Schwartz said, explaining that $47 million has already been devoted to the effort. He said that, for now, State will come up with the money to support urgent needs, but the GOP spending plan would cut PRM’s $2 billion budget in half for the rest of fiscal 2011. The legislation "would impact both these emergency accounts which have been put to use in this crisis as well as our regular accounts which also have been put to use in this crisis," Schwartz said.

On March 12, Schwartz co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he said that he was "deeply concerned by the prospect of U.S. humanitarian aid reductions of historic and devastating proportions."

On Capitol Hill, the negotiations about the remainder of the fiscal 2011 budget are a long way from over, and it is clear that Congress will have to pass yet another short-term extension when the current continuing resolution expires March 18. Negotiations over the fiscal 2012 budget have not yet begun.

In the meantime, several lawmakers are putting forth ideas for ways to speed some extra money to the region to support U.S. democracy promotion efforts.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) supports the creation of a "Middle East stability fund" that would appropriate money at the levels of the full fiscal 2011 request for Arab countries and Israel, in addition to the full year continuing resolution whenever it goes through.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) proposed an $80 million enterprise fund for Egypt and Tunisia last week, which would encourage economic development and foreign investment in those countries. His idea is supported by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

"These new enterprise funds will allow us to do what the people of Egypt and Tunisia are calling for – and that’s to provide investment capital so their entrepreneurs and private businesses, so that their economies can stabilize, can prosper," said Kerry.