Nides: State Department does have some friends on Capitol Hill
The State Department may be facing its toughest budget season ever, but there are still plenty of lawmakers who are ready to defend funding for diplomacy and development, according to Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides. Congress rejected, by a 20 to 78 vote, an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last week to fund ...
The State Department may be facing its toughest budget season ever, but there are still plenty of lawmakers who are ready to defend funding for diplomacy and development, according to Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides.
Congress rejected, by a 20 to 78 vote, an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last week to fund $6.9 billion in emergency disaster relief by taking the money out of the State Department’s foreign assistance budget. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) all came to the State Department’s defense.
"I think getting 78 votes against it was pretty darn good," Nides told The Cable in an interview. "We have bipartisan support. Clearly the great majority of the Senate thought it was not the right thing to do… Even in difficult times, people don’t want to do things that would dramatically impact our national security."
Graham responded to Paul and defended foreign aid funding in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Sept. 16. Graham explained how he defends foreign aid to the man on the street, a man he called "Bubba."
"Here’s what I’d tell ‘Bubba,’ when he asked," Graham said. "I’d say, listen, I got it, pal. We’re not going to write any more checks to dictators and let them waste your money. We’re just not going to through money. But less than 1 percent of what we spend at the federal level is on foreign assistance."
Nides said that Graham has been "enormously helpful" in defending foreign assistance. "He fundamentally believes that the funding of State Department and USAID is critical to our national security. His argument is not that we should be funding these things just based on humanitarian grounds, as important as that may be."
The chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Africa subcommittee, Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have also emerged as advocates for foreign assistance funding. In a Sept. 19 letter to the chairs of the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign ops subcommittee, obtained by The Cable, they defended funding for development assistance and the USAID operations accounts, both of which are slashed in the House version of next year’s appropriations bill.
"Development assistance is a reflection of our moral imperative to assist others in need, a critical demonstration of American leadership in the world," they wrote. "We are keenly aware of the budgetary pressures facing Congress… we are concerned that reductions to development assistance will undermine U.S. priorities in Africa and throughout the developing world."
Nides said that the House version of the State and Foreign Ops appropriations bill, which would give $39.6 billion in fiscal 2012 to international affairs funding, "would have dramatic impact on the operations of the State Department." The Senate version, which would provide about $44.6 billion, is "more reasonable," he said.
Nides said that the State Department and USAID have succeeded in being added to the national security discussion — but that also places diplomacy and development funding in competition with national security accounts, including the defense budget.
"You’ve got to fund defense, but not at the cost of depleting your diplomacy and development. That would be shortsighted," he said.
The supercommittee that is working on discretionary budget cuts this fall must deal with caps on "security" spending, which bundles defense, diplomacy, and development funding into one big pool of money. And that could leave the U.S. diplomatic corps as the odd man out.
The State Department does have one very powerful friend who sits on that committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). So does Nides think Kerry will use his supercommittee perch to come to State’s defense?
"My assumption is that he’ll do whatever he can to be supportive, but first and foremost he’s going to have to do what’s in the best interest of the American people," said Nides. "I think he will determine that that includes protecting our national security, and that includes funding for State and USAID."
Josh Rogin is a former staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshrogin
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