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Posted at 10:09 AM ET, 07/27/2011

House panel to vote on bill that would slash State Department funding, impose new restrictions

A key House panel is to vote Wednesday on a measure that would slash many areas of State Department and foreign aid funding, and place new restrictions on assistance to Pakistan, Egypt and Yemen.

The Republican-sponsored bill is expected to pass, since the party holds seven of the 11 seats on the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee. But the vote is just the first step in what is likely to be a drawn-out battle over funding for diplomacy and foreign aid in 2012.

The bill would roughly double aid to the so-called “front-line states” — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq — providing them with about $7.6 billion, in line with the Obama administration’s request. But it would reduce spending for the rest of State Department and foreign programs by around $5 billion, or 11 percent. If it were to become law — a big if — the cuts could be severe enough to necessitate furloughs at the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to some budget analysts.

The legislation reflects the determination of the Republican-dominated House to rein in spending at a time of record deficits, but to preserve military assistance and programs aimed at fighting drug-trafficking and terrorism.

“We have established tough oversight and accountability measures that will make sure my constituents’ tax dollars are not wasted overseas while making sure we support our national security priorities and key allies,” said Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), head of the subcommittee, in a statement.

The bill will doubtless be a disappointment to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has made it a priority to staff up the State Department and the depleted ranks of USAID. The legislation would reduce the State Department’s operating budget by around 14 percent. It also would significantly cut development assistance and contributions to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.

“At a time when the demands we place on our diplomatic and development workforce are increasing, it is short-sighted to downsize the Department of State and USAID,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the panel’s top Democrat. “Funding levels are also inadequate to maintain global leadership on global health, development, and disaster relief.”

The spending bill adopted by the House will have to be reconciled with one from the Democratic-majority Senate that will almost certainly look much different. If that doesn’t happen by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, Congress may vote to continue spending at current levels.

The House bill slaps tough new conditions on aid to several countries. It would block aid to Pakistan unless the country shows progress on fighting terrorist groups and helps the U.S. government investigate Osama bin Laden’s network.

The measure would also cease funding for the Palestinian Authority if it continued to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations this fall. And it would hold up aid to Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen until Clinton certified that their governments didn’t include terrorist groups or their sympathizers.

The bill also includes a Republican priority — reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy,” which bars U.S. assistance to non-governmental organizations abroad that promote abortion. That policy, in place under President George W. Bush, was reversed by the Obama administration.

By  |  10:09 AM ET, 07/27/2011

 
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