STATE DEPARTMENT— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says mandatory federal budget cuts set for March 1 will undermine America's position in the world, damaging both U.S. foreign policy and private sector investment.
Secretary Kerry says America's "relatively small investment" in foreign policy advances global stability and helps U.S. companies compete abroad.
"Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It's not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world. Foreign assistance lifts others up, and then reinforces their willingness to link arms with us in common endeavors," Kerry said.
In his first speech as secretary of state, Kerry told students at the University of Virginia that the price of abandoning global efforts would be exorbitant because others will quickly fill the vacuum left behind.
"Now some may say: not now. Not while we have our budget [problems]. It’s too expensive. But believe me my friends: these challenges will not get easier with time. There is no pause button on the future. We cannot choose when we would like to stop and restart our global responsibility, or simply wait until the calendar says it’s more convenient," Kerry said.
The automatic spending cuts -- or sequester -- set to take effect March 1 are the result of a budget stand-off between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress. House Speaker John Boehner says it is up to the president to avoid these automatic cuts.
"We're weeks away from the president's sequester and the president laid out no plan to eliminate the sequester and the harmful cuts that will come as a result of it. Republicans have twice passed bills to replace the sequester. It's incumbent upon the president and Senate Democrats to show us their plan to stop the sequester from going into effect," Boehner said.
Johns Hopkins University professor Ruth Wedgwood says automatic spending cuts would be an awkward start to the president's second term.
"Sequestration would be a very, very stupid signal to send abroad. And nobody knows how it would play out," Wedgwood said.
She says U.S. diplomatic and military standing are on the line, especially as defense officials are already scaling back in anticipation of the cuts.
"What it signals to people as to our likely future -- much too close future -- role in the world. If we haven't got the gas money to go the Gulf, that's a very bad signal to send," Wedgwood said.
Confusion about the cuts has led to uncertainty on financial markets. Secretary Kerry says standing up for American jobs and businesses intersects with U.S. leadership on climate change.
"We as a nation must have the foresight and the courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and our grandchildren, and that is an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate," Kerry said.
Kerry is calling for a "responsible agreement that prevents these senseless cuts," so the United States does not lose out on global opportunities because of politics.