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U.S.: Key Committee Slashes Foreign Aid, Warns Palestinians

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Jul 27 2011 (IPS) - Amidst growing fears of a new fiscal crisis sparked by a possible U.S. debt default next week, a key Republican-led Congressional committee Wednesday approved deep cuts in foreign aid and contributions to the United Nations and other multilateral institutions next year.

While leaving some eight billion dollars in President Barack Obama’s requests for non-military aid to Iraq and Afghanistan relatively untouched, the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House of Representatives cut bilateral economic and development assistance to the rest of the developing world by an average of around 25 percent.

It also made major cuts in U.S. contributions to multilateral agencies, including the U.N. and some of its specialised agencies, and some international financial institutions (IFIs).

It sliced a total of 600 million dollars from the administration’s 3.5-billion-dollar request for the U.N. and its peacekeeping operations, for example.

It also halved Washington’s 143-million-dollar 2012 pledge to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and zeroed out U.S. contributions to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and rejected proposed capital increases for IFIs that are providing support for developing countries still struggling with the fallout of the 2008-9 financial crisis.

It cut the operating budgets for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by 35 percent, essentially reversing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s efforts to build up the ranks of both agencies.

Moreover, it made significant cuts to major programmes designed to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

It cut 18 percent – to just over seven billion dollars – from Obama’s request for global health projects, which had been one of former President George W. Bush’s signal foreign-policy achievements.

It cut Obama’s requested family-planning programmes worldwide by 40 percent, from 770 million dollars to 461 million dollars, and reinstated the highly contentious “Gag Rule” that bans U.S. aid to clinics or groups in developing countries that perform or even provide information about abortion services.

And it cut development assistance by 12 percent, from 863 million dollars this year to 758 million dollars in 2012, and emergency refugee and migration assistance by 36 percent, from 50 million dollars to 32 million dollars.

“These cuts will not only harm U.S. national interests, they will have a huge impact on the lives of those who are already marginalised in the poorest corners of the earth,” said Samuel A. Worthington, president of InterAction, a coalition of nearly 200 U.S. development and humanitarian non-governmental organisations.

“With the worst drought in 60 years hitting parts of the Horn of Africa, these cuts amount to the U.S. turning its back on its own strategic interests and walking away from long held international commitments,” he added.

The subcommittee’s bill also imposed stringent conditions on future aid to Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Palestine Authority (PA) and further provided that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents the PA in foreign capitals, would be forced to shut down its office here if it pursued its efforts at the U.N. to gain recognition for a Palestinian state.

At the same time, it approved the full 3.1 billion dollars in mostly military aid that the administration had requested for Israel in 2012.

The subcommittee’s bill, which is expected to be approved by the House Appropriations Committee next week and by the Republican majority on the House floor in September or October, will almost certainly face substantial opposition in the Democratic-led Senate and eventually by a veto-wielding Obama later this year. Fiscal Year 2012 begins Oct 1.

Still, the cuts and policies prescriptions it calls for will likely provide the baseline from which the Republicans will bargain with their Senate colleagues and the White House in any eventual compromise appropriations measure. And given the budget-cutting fervour that has captured both parties and the unpopularity of “foreign aid” among the general public, they will likely hold a strong hand.

Moreover, in the past, the foreign operations subcommittee has generally tried to present a bill with support on both sides of the aisle. This year, however, it appears that the Republicans were determined to get their version of the bill through. Democrats remained quiet when a voice vote was called to approve it.

“It is deeply troubling that this bill fails to maintain our longstanding tradition of a more bipartisan proposal,” said the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey, who nonetheless voiced her support for the conditions placed on aid for Arab countries and the PA.

“Many of the cuts as well as the problematic policy riders would hurt America’s standing on the international stage, impede our ability to save lives and build healthy, stable societies, diminish our economic prospects, and undermine our national security interests,” she added.

But committee chair Rep. Kay Granger insisted that the ongoing recession and Washington’s fiscal situation should take precedence. “Our debt is well over 14 trillion dollars,” she said. “Today, every dollar counts. This bill reflects these new realities.”

Overall, the bill would provide 47.2 billion dollars for the State Department, multilateral institutions, and foreign aid programmes in fiscal 2012, 8.5 billion dollars – or 15 percent – less than Obama’s request. The total was roughly equivalent to the civilian international affairs budget in 2008.

It also comes to less than nine percent of the 530 billion dollars in military expenditures – not counting an estimated 170 billion dollars more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – approved by the Republican-led House for 2012 earlier this year.

The wide and now-growing disparity between the civilian international affairs budget and the military has provoked complaints in the recent past not only from retired diplomats, but also from senior Pentagon officials. The latter include its former chief, Robert Gates who, already in 2008, warned of a “creeping militarisation” of U.S. foreign policy.

“Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers,” he noted last year.

The Republicans appear to have largely spurned that advice in the new bill. In contrast to the cuts in development, economic, humanitarian assistance, and in contributions to multilateral agencies, it provides 6.4 billion dollars in military aid, a 19-percent increase above the current levels, and 2.5 billion dollars in counter-drug programmes, an increase of 56 percent.

“This bill goes in precisely the opposite direction of the one called for by Gates and (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike) Mullen who have said that our national security depends as much on our civilian presence overseas as it does on the military,” noted Ken Forsberg, InterAction’s legislative chief.

On the Middle East, the bill calls for 1.3 billion dollars in aid to Egypt, provided that the secretary of state can certify that its government is adhering fully to the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Israel and that no part of its government is controlled by a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation”.

The latter condition also applies to Lebanon, Libya and Yemen, while any Palestinian government that forms an agreement with Hamas would not be eligible to receive U.S. aid.

Lowey, the ranking Democrat, indicated support for the Middle East provisions of the bill. Earlier this month, she co-signed a letter with Granger to PA President Mahmoud Abbas warning him that his pursuit of recognition for Palestine at the U.N. would likely cost him all of the nearly 500 million dollars Washington provides to the PA.

“It has become so clear that we just can’t play any meaningful peacemaking role between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute here. “Our domestic politics take us out of the game.”

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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