- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Republican head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sharply criticized President Trump’s proposal to cut USAID funding by 33 percent Wednesday, saying the reduction will negatively impact American-led efforts to combat terrorists, address future health threats and promote democracy around the world.

“These efforts shouldn’t be shorted,” said Rep. Ed Royce of California, who lamented the proposed cuts come “at a time when more than 65 million people have been displaced by conflict and famine looms in at least four countries.

“Regrettably, the administration has again proposed cutting USAID’s funding by 33 percent — despite the fact that foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of the [overall federal] budget,” the congressman said at the opening of a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Royce also noted Defense Secretary James Mattis’ oft-quoted claim that cuts to U.S. diplomacy and development “only increases the likelihood that U.S. forces will need to deploy” around the world.

The California Republican’s comments add fuel to what has blossomed in recent months into a prolonged diplomacy and aid budget fight between the White House and moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill, who’ve stood with Democrats against the reductions since Mr. Trump first proposed them in early 2017.

While the State Department’s overall 2017 funding was roughly $53 billion, Mr. Trump has proposed cutting it to about $39 billion for 2019. USAID, meanwhile, has a proposed budget of $16.8 billion for 2019, down from roughly $29.5 billion it received in 2017.

Administration officials, particularly former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have argued the cuts could be compensated for with increased donations and private sector partnerships that support U.S. diplomacy and aid programs. With President Trump having recently fired Mr. Tillerson, there is uncertainty over how CIA Director Mike Pompeo — the secretary of State nominee — views the situation.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle bristled at Mr. Trump’s proposed diplomacy and aid cuts last year, vowing to keep both the State Department and USAID budgets close to 2017 levels through stop-gap measures tied to the overall budget deal Congress and the White House reached in February.

But with the latest stop-gap measures set to expire at the end of this week, unease is still swirling over the future of the State and USAID budgets — unease that was amplified last month when President Trump revealed his 2019 budget proposal calling for the extended cuts.

USAID Director Mark Green told lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing that he’s attempting to pursue a “fiscally responsible budget” designed for “challenging times,” although he acknowledged the spending levels requested will make it difficult for the agency to shine on the global stage.

“We acknowledge that this budget request will not provide enough resources for us to meet every humanitarian need or seize every international development opportunity,” said Mr. Green, who, prior to joining USAID, served as president of the International Republican Institute and was a Republican congressman from Wisconsin from 1999 to 2007.

“In truth, no federal budget in recent memory would be large enough to do so, and we would not suggest it wise to try to do so,” he said.

Mr. Royce said there are “some bright spots” in the proposed USAID budget, most notably that it “supports the creation of a Development Finance Institution that could unleash the power of private sector-led growth, while expanding opportunities for U.S. investment and trade.”

But overall, the California Republican lamented the “proposed cuts would impact a number of U.S. priorities — including efforts to combat terrorists, poachers and human traffickers.”

“U.S. leadership was key to stopping Ebola in West Africa, and continued engagement is needed to address future health threats before they hit our shores,” he said. “The U.S. also has a proud legacy of supporting electoral processes and democratic institutions, providing a lifeline to people fighting for freedom and suffering under authoritarian regimes worldwide. These efforts shouldn’t be shorted.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, added that it “just isn’t possible to keep making progress on our international development priorities if we slash the budget by a third.”

The proposed cuts represent “another step in America’s withdrawal from the world at a time when our leadership is needed more than ever,” said Mr. Engel of New York. “Fortunately, it’s been clear since the administration submitted its budget last year that there’s bipartisan opposition to these drastic cuts which would undermine our role on the global stage.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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