Opening Remarks At The Appropriations Committee Markup For The FY2009 State, Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  I want to thank you and Senator Cochran for the allocation we received this year. 

Senator Gregg and I have worked together to produce this bipartisan bill. He and his staff have been extremely helpful and I thank him for it.

Without taking the time to go into detail about this bill, I want to highlight a few items:

There are no congressionally directed spending items in this bill. No organization, other than the United Nations or a multilateral organization that the U.S. is a member of, or that has been authorized for funding or requested for funding by the President, is named in the bill or in the Committee report with a dollar amount recommended for it.

We provide additional funds to support UN peacekeeping operations, including for Darfur.

We provide more than $5 billion to combat HIV/AIDS.

We include a new heading in the bill entitled “Global Food Security”, for which we have provided $125 million to address food security through agriculture development programs.

The bill provides the usual earmarks for assistance for Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

Once again, this bill includes provisions which support assistance for international family planning that are in the Senate bill year after year.

I want to mention the funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation. We had a difficult choice to make this year – whether to fund new MCC compacts for two or three countries, or address the glaring shortfalls in funding for embassy construction and security, USAID operations, peacekeeping, global health, assistance for refugees, disaster relief, and other immediate, pressing needs.

We chose the latter. Since 2004, we have appropriated $7.5 billion for the MCC, of which just $235 million has been spent. I do not believe that how much money you spend is a measure of results, but we need to see more before we add more compacts to the 18 that are already signed and just getting off the ground.

We provide $254 million for the MCC, to fully fund its administrative costs, due diligence and pre-compact funding, and the continuation of funding to threshold programs that may need to be extended. This is on top of the $7.5 billion they have already.

Some may misinterpret this as a sign of a lack of support for the MCC. I want to state emphatically that is not the case. I strongly support the goals of the MCC and I want it to succeed.

The MCC is an innovative approach to foreign assistance, and it is beginning to show results. But the temporary pause we are recommending is an opportunity for the MCC to focus on implementing the compacts that are underway, with the $7.5 billion it already has.

Countries that are seeking to become eligible for MCC funding should continue doing so. If we see the results we hope for next year, we will fund those compacts.

This bill does not include a proviso, which I oppose and was not included in the Senate bill last year, which says that U.S. officials should not meet in Jerusalem with officials of the Palestinian Authority, or any successor Palestinian governing entity, to conduct official business.

We all support Israel. That is not in question. 

But this proviso is an anachronism. It is counterproductive to U.S. diplomacy, and it is insulting to our dedicated diplomats, as well as to Palestinians, including President Abbas, who are trying to negotiate peace. It has no place in our law. It has even constrained where Members of Congress and their staffs can meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.

I have been amazed at the outcry because this one sentence proviso was not included in this bill. I would have hoped that we would no longer be telling the very Palestinian officials who our government says, and who all of us believe, are crucial to achieving a peace agreement, that they are not welcome at the U.S. Consulate. Is this really the way we want to be seen?

I had hoped that this Committee would put the interests of the United States first. 

I can count votes, and apparently this Committee is not ready to do away with this proviso, so I have included an amendment in the managers’ package to restore it. 

As much as I regret it, this bill will continue to say that the Secretary of State, and other U.S. officials including each of us around this table, should not meet with Palestinian officials in Jerusalem.

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