- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2012

Congressional hearings on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, fell into partisan bickering Thursday, with Democrats blaming the incident on a lack of security funding and Republicans accusing the State Department of misspending the funds it has received.

Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress bears some responsibility for security failures at diplomatic outposts because lawmakers have “the power of the purse.”

The State Department’s annual budget, roughly $50 billion a year, is “less than one-tenth of the Pentagon’s” $650 billion a year, said Mr. Kerry, who is expected to be tapped to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.

“For years, we have asked our State Department to operate with increasingly lesser resources to conduct essential missions,” he said in opening remarks during a committee hearing. “Our diplomats don’t wear a uniform, but they swear the same oath as the men and women of our armed forces, and their sacrifice is no less important.”

But on the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the State Department cannot blame “its long string of failures on inadequate funding.”

“Budgetary constraints were not a factor in the department’s failure to recognize the threat and adequately respond,” the Florida Republican said. “The problem was and is about misplaced priorities.”

The State Department should have funded security personnel and training using the money “being lavished on global climate change, culinary diplomacy programs and other favored projects,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

The divergent partisan perspectives came in response to the report on the State Department’s internal probe of the consulate attack. The report blamed “grossly inadequate” security at the diplomatic mission on “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of State Department headquarters, where officials turned down repeated requests for more security from diplomats in Libya.

U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department official Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in the onslaught, which was carried out by Islamic extremists on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

‘This has nothing to do with money’

The report, which was produced by a mandatory investigative panel called an Accountability Review Board, calls for an additional $23 billion in diplomatic security spending over the next 10 years. Mrs. Clinton asked Congress this week to provide the first $1.3 billion of that sum in the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

“We owe it to … the memory of Chris Stevens and those others who lost their lives, to make good on that request,” Mr. Kerry said.

The Democrat-controlled Senate likely will oppose House Republican efforts to cut the State Department budget to provide extra funding to implement the review board’s recommendations.

On Thursday, two deputy secretaries of state — Thomas R. Nides and William J. Burns — testified before both committees about the report, of which a classified and an unclassified version were released late Tuesday.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who will become the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next year, expressed skepticism about the department’s promise to implement all the board’s 29 recommendations.

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