Opening Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy, Department Of State And Foreign Operations Subcommittee Hearing On FY 2012 State Department Budget

As prepared for delivery

Welcome, Madam Secretary.  Each member seated to my left is new to this subcommittee, so I want to take this opportunity to publicly welcome them as well.  I particularly want to thank Senator Lindsey Graham for accepting the role of ranking member. 

Senator Graham has brought important expertise to the Judiciary Committee, and I have no doubt he will do the same here.  Not only does he have unique knowledge as a former Judge Advocate General, he is someone who works across party lines, which is the tradition of this subcommittee. 

As long as I have been chairman or ranking member we have worked in a bipartisan manner, both members and staffs.  When it comes to matters of foreign policy and national security, it is the best way.

I also want to publicly thank Rich Verma, your Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, who I understand is leaving the Department this week to return to practicing law.  Rich, who previously worked in the Senate, is as capable a person as they come.  He is universally liked and respected and he has done an excellent job.

I will speak very briefly so we have as much time as possible for questions, and will put the rest of my remarks in the record. 

Madam Secretary, Congress has yet to finish work on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget and we only received yesterday the justification materials for part of your Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, so I suspect today’s questions will straddle both.

The House Majority has proposed drastic cuts in your budget for the remainder of 2011.  The impact of those cuts on the operations of our embassies, which all Americans who travel, study or work abroad depend on as we have been reminded of in Egypt and Libya; on national security programs from Afghanistan to Mexico; on the development of foreign markets for U.S. exports; and on our influence at the United Nations and other international organizations, would be dramatic. 

I hope, in addition to discussing your Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, that you will give us your reactions to the House Continuing Resolution.

We have all been fascinated by recent popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Yemen and elsewhere.  The courage and determination of the people of these countries in overcoming generations of fear and apathy is as extraordinary as it is inspiring.

At the same time, it is hard to see how the Government of Iran does not come out stronger as a result of all this upheaval, which deeply concerns all of us.

The United States should be a strong voice for people living under repressive, corrupt regimes who are demanding the freedoms we often take for granted, and whose support we need in countering terrorism.  We have seen the power of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and how the Mubarak regime tried, and failed, to silence it, and how Iran’s rulers are cracking down.  

Since 2008, this subcommittee has appropriated $50 million for programs to promote Internet access and circumvent government censorship.  You have spoken about this and I hope you will tell us how the State Department is using these funds.

Turning to Fiscal Year 2012, I believe your budget request is a far more responsible approach to the national security challenges we face than what the House has proposed in its Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution. While the mood in Congress is to cut spending, the age old refrain “penny wise pound foolish” could not be more applicable.

We face threats and have important interests, not only in the Middle East and South Asia, but on every continent.  China, our biggest competitor, is expanding its influence in every hemisphere.  There is a global food crisis that our friends in the House seem oblivious to, and their answer to climate change is to punt to the next generation.  We face huge challenges in our own hemisphere.  

Our priorities also must include promoting human rights and tolerance, transparent and accountable government, and the rule of law.  That is why I wrote the Leahy Amendment almost a decade and a half ago.

For those who question the need for the funds you are requesting, there are many other compelling examples. 

We can begin with global health – preventing outbreaks of deadly viruses and other infectious diseases that can quickly become pandemics that kill millions of people including Americans.

Or international terrorism, organized crime and other trans-national crime, which are growing threats to Americans and the citizens and governments of other nations, especially democratic governments whose institutions are weak and prone to corruption.

There is the pressing need to respond to rising temperatures, melting glaciers, growing populations of hungry people who need energy and jobs, and whose access to land and safe water is shrinking.  These are elements of a global train wreck in the making.   

We know this budget will not solve every problem in the world, but it will at least ensure that the United States is equipped to play a leadership role – something that some of our friends in the House seem unconcerned about. 

Today more than ever we recognize the need for fully staffed embassies, effective diplomacy, and strong alliances.  We greatly appreciate the work you are doing.  And we again commend the dedicated men and women of the State Department and USAID who are serving America here at home and at posts around the world, often at great personal risk.

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