Lawmakers from both parties denounced the Trump administration’s proposal to cut foreign aid, saying it would hurt U.S. efforts to fight terrorism and health epidemics and make military deployments more likely.
The criticisms arose as Mark Green, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, testified Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about a proposed 33 percent cut in his budget, to $16.8 billion next year.
“You’re a great pick for the job,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the committee. “But with a 33 percent cut to the budget, no one could do the job effectively.”
Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) said the budget would “hamstring” USAID efforts at a time when 70 million people worldwide have been uprooted by conflicts and famine.
“Indeed, these proposed cuts would impact a number of U.S. priorities — including efforts to combat terrorists, poachers and human traffickers,” he said.
“These efforts shouldn’t be shorted,” he added.
As it did last year, the Trump administration is encountering bipartisan resistance to steep reductions for diplomacy and foreign aid. It has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget from $53 billion in 2017 to $39 billion next year. Similar cuts were on the table last year, but lawmakers have so far succeeded in keeping funding close to what it was through a budget deal made in February.
Adding to the turmoil, President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed him. It will fall to Pompeo, if he is confirmed in hearings expected in April, to balance the cuts demanded by the White House with congressional support for many diplomatic and development initiatives.
Green’s hearing suggested that lawmakers will again push back, as most of the members appeared to want Green to do more, not less.
“The arguments we can’t afford it don’t fly with me,” said Engel, noting USAID’s budget amounts to half of 1 percent of the total federal budget. “Especially after the president signed a tax bill that blows a trillion-and-a-half-dollar hole in the budget.”
Green, a former Republican congressman from Wisconsin, is widely popular among members of Congress, in part because he has regularly briefed them and has been more accessible than Tillerson. Even the harshest critics of Trump’s budget proposal expressed admiration for Green as he struggled to put a good face on what he could do with a third of his funding gone.
“I readily admit this budget does not allow us to do everything we might want to do in a perfect world, and it does not allow us to take on every opportunity we might see,” he said. “The president is attempting to balance what he sees is needed for the security of our citizens, advancing American leadership and our commitment to efficiency and effectiveness.”
Green said that Germany, France, South Korea and Japan are among the countries that have increased their contributions to partially make up for the drops in U.S. funding.
“My commitment is to go as far as I can with every single dollar that’s provided,” he said.
Several members favorably contrasted Green’s approach with Trump’s.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D -Fla.), for example, asked him what USAID could do to counter Russia’s influence in other countries.
Green cited the promotion of democracy in Ukraine as a possible model for Eastern Europe. He said that supporting independent journalists would help counter the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation campaigns and that helping countries achieve energy independence makes them less reliant on Moscow.
“I agree with you,” Deutch told him. “One sure way for us to lose leverage and influence with other countries is what we saw here this week, when the president of the United States calls Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his victory.
“I wish the White House paid closer attention to the way you are standing up for values and used those efforts as a model for how to operate,” he added.