Congress has started scrutinizing President Barack Obama’s 2013 foreign aid budget request, from staffing costs in the embassy in Iraq and unobligated funds in the Middle East to increased financial assistance to governments that undermine U.S. interests.
Republican Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned the administration’s funding request for Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan at the State Department budget hearing on Wednesday (Feb. 29). She also criticized Obama’s increased budget request for Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, and cuts in U.S. financial assistance to Cuba and Venezuela.
Ros-Lehtinen said the administration appears to be focused on spending “a lot of money” in search of a policy. She called the $770 million Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund as a fund with “almost no restrictions” on how it can be used.
“I’ve had concerns from day one about the Administration’s approach to the ‘Arab Spring’ and to the forces at work there, including radical Islamist groups,” she told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ros-Lehtinen also said U.S. funding to UNESCO must only be restored if the agency votes to “un-admit Palestine.” In addition, she said the United States should not reward Egypt with aid despite reports the country has lifted its travel ban on American nongovernmental organization workers.
Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, meanwhile, targeted the $4.8 billion request for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, said the security costs and needs of employees and contractors are “five times more costly than the actual programs.”
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