US foreign aid cuts advance in the House

The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee met on July 24 to debate and amend the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. Photo by: Drew Saunders / CC BY-NC-SA

U.S. appropriators in the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday not just to slash funding for U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance programs by $8 billion, but to also compel Secretary of State John Kerry to release more information about aid programs in Afghanistan.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill after voting on several amendments. The bill funds U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance programs, as well as contributions to international multilateral organizations and initiatives, and had been marked up last week by a subcommittee.

One amendment that passed Wednesday was offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and would require the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to measure the readiness of PEPFAR partner countries “to accept greater ownership of PEPFAR-supported programs.”

This was the only Democratic amendment which garnered enough votes.

Another amendment that was approved would cut Kerry’s salary by a quarter unless the State Department submits a plan to implement recommendations made earlier this month by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, who is alleging wasteful spending for contracted services like landmine removal and inadequate auditing of State Department spending in the country overall.

The salary reduction, which would apply also to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, would go into effect on July 1, 2014.

Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who serves as the panel’s ranking member, likened the amendment to “using a hammer to swat a fly,” arguing that the State Department already agreed the recommendations should be implemented.

Democrats defend aid spending

The lack of votes did not stop Democrats from passionately defending contributions to multilateral initiatives the House committee’s bill eliminates or cuts, in particular United Nations agencies like UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund, the largest multilateral family planning and reproductive health program in world.

U.S. government contributions to both of these vanish under the proposed bill, which eliminates funding for the International Organizations and Programs account, which covers all U.N. contributions.

Lowey called the retraction of support for these programs “simply unacceptable,” “inexplicable,” and “unconscionable.”

“There is no doing more with less. There is only less,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), speaking on behalf of an amendment to restore funding to the international organizations account.

She added: “The problem is, less, when it comes to food security, means that children around the world will starve to death.”

Republicans reject additional funding

All proposals to increase funding beyond the subcommittee’s legislative draft were voted down by the panel’s Republican majority. State and Foreign Operations was the tenth appropriations bill reviewed by the House committee so far this year, in what one representative said has become a “rote” exercise.

Republican lawmakers did not question the efficacy of the programs the House bill eliminates, but argued the appropriation committee’s allocation for state and foreign operations spending simply did not allow for the renewal of many well-intentioned, but “lower-priority” foreign policy programs.

Democrats like Barbara Lee countered that the appropriation levels the bill reflects have no realistic chance of moving through Senate, and that the committee should “get back to using realistic numbers that fund the core functions of our government.”

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.