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February 13, 2011

Clinton Warns of 'Devastating' Foreign Affairs Budget Cuts

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that foreign affairs budget cuts being proposed by Republican members of Congress would be "devastating" to U.S. national security interests.  Clinton made an unusual visit to Capitol Hill to discuss the issue with the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner.  

State Department officials rolled out a budget plan for the 2012 fiscal year that would entail practically no growth in foreign affairs spending and would require ending or cutting U.S. aid to nearly 30  countries.

But they are more concerned about cuts being proposed by the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives for the current year that officials say would require a 16 percent reduction in the State Department budget and 41 percent cut in humanitarian aid.

In a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Clinton said cuts of that magnitude would be "devastating" to U.S. national security, damage U.S. leadership in the world and render the United States unable to respond to disasters.

Republicans are proposing reductions virtually across the board in U.S. government agencies to fulfill campaign pledges for immediate budget cuts of up to $100 billion to reduce the nation's record federal budget deficit.

Meeting reporters after what she termed a "productive" meeting with Speaker Boehner, Clinton said the proposed 2011 reductions would cripple plans to increase civilian aid to Iraq as the U.S. military role there nears an end.

"In Iraq, as our troops leave, there will be a savings in direct military expenditures that will total about $45 billion," said Secretary Clinton. "We’re asking for about $4 billion to make sure we have a civilian presence to continue working with the Iraqi government in order that the enormous sacrifice that our men and women in uniform made, and that this country made, to try to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart their own democratic future is not lost."

In an apparent reference to Iran, Clinton, said the United States is not the only country that will be in a position to influence what happens in Iraq.

Speaker Boehner did not appear with Clinton and there was no indication whether the powerful House speaker would move to temper budget-cutting by his fellow Republicans.

At the State Department, meanwhile, officials unveiled a 2012 plan for U.S. foreign affairs and aid spending programs - less than one percent larger that the 2010  budget.

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who oversees the budget, said the plan recognizes the need for austerity.

"We’ve scrubbed the entire budget for savings," said Nides. "We’ve eliminated foreign assistance programs for several countries.  We’ve reduced development assistance by over half in 20 others.  We have cut funding in Europe and Eurasia by 15 percent.  We’ve even managed to identify over $100 million in administrative savings through more efficient travel and procurement."

Nides stressed that the foreign affairs budget represents only one percent of the U.S. federal budget, despite a widespread misconception that the United States spends many times more than that on foreign aid alone.