Kerry says yes to State Dept. funding, Ros-Lehtinen says no

Kerry says yes to State Dept. funding, Ros-Lehtinen says no

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) unveiled his bill today to authorize funding for the State Department and foreign operations, which represented a direct rebuttal to the legislation approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) last week that was written by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

"We face tremendous foreign policy and national security challenges worldwide, from helping countries manage peaceful, democratic transitions in the Middle East, to preventing violence, conflict, and terrorism from engulfing key partners, and to leading humanitarian responses to forestall drought, famine, and natural disasters," Kerry said in a press release. "We are only able to achieve these aims with a strong State Department and USAID."

The bill would fully fund the State Department and USAID operations at the level requested by the White House. HFAC and the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, meanwhile, approved an appropriations bill today that would slash the international affairs budget 18 percent from fiscal 2011 levels.

"We thought it important to get this out there as a counterpoint to what was done in the House last week," said a committee staffer in an interview with The Cable.

Whereas the House GOP legislation would severely restrict U.S. foreign aid to a host of countries, such as Pakistan, Lebanon, and Yemen, Kerry’s bill doesn’t include prohibitions on foreign aid funding to countries that have major policy differences with the United States. For example, the starting point for aid to Pakistan under Kerry’s bill is the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill, which authorizes $1.5 billion in annual funding. This funding would be severely restricted under Ros-Lehtinen’s plan.

"What we’re trying to do is to support our diplomats, while putting in oversight and accountability mechanisms as well. But we’re not putting in prohibitions or restrictions or anything along those lines," the staffer said, noting some new accountability rules concerning foreign aid disbursement in the bill.

The Kerry bill also calls for a new State Department senior cyber-coordinator, includes provisions on Internet freedom that may eventually be transformed into a stand-alone bill, and also provides a permanent authorization for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which has been funded on an ad hoc basis until now.

The funding levels authorized in Kerry’s bill closely track the administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request. Of course, nobody knows if those funds will be set aside for international affairs when the appropriators weigh in. And the ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling could change the financial picture for State and USAID as well.

There’s no word yet when Kerry’s bill might see committee markup or floor action, but it won’t happen until at least September. Importantly, this bill is the product of Kerry’s office alone. Last year, Kerry introduced an authorization bill with Lugar, but this time, Lugar decided not to participate.

The bill text is here, a long summary of provisions is here, and a shorter fact sheet on the bill can be found here.