Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Reckless Cuts For American Citizen Services Abroad

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

MR. LEAHY.  Mr. President, House Republicans, reacting to the ire of a minority of vocal, anti-government extremists who make no secret of their desire to shut down the government even while complaining that the government is not doing enough for them, are proposing reckless cuts in programs vital to job creation and to national security. 

Many in the other party are masters at blaming others for a budget deficit and debt they created during the Bush Administration, self–proclaimed fiscal conservatives who in a few short years racked up a trillion dollar deficit by refusing to pay for two wars while worsening the balance sheet further by cutting corporate taxes.  Overnight, they burned through the Clinton-era surpluses and then started a massive borrowing binge. 

Any mention of the consequences of what is being proposed is carefully avoided, but the American people should know the facts. 

There are many examples.  The catastrophic earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis in Japan, as well as the popular uprisings and violence in North Africa and the Middle East, demonstrate once again the essential role that our embassies and consulates and our foreign assistance programs play in protecting the safety and security of American citizens and our allies. 

Our Republican friends have been urging drastic cuts to our international operations and programs, even though they, in total, comprise a mere one percent of the Federal budget –one percent – and have no appreciable impact on the deficit.

Yet when a natural or man-made disaster occurs overseas and Americans are affected, or an American is arrested and locked in a foreign jail, those same critics of these programs immediately expect the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to leap into action.  

In Egypt alone, at least 75,000 Americans were living, working and studying when that country erupted in civic unrest, and airports and train stations were jammed with throngs of frantic people trying to leave the country.  Thousands of Americans turned to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  Our consular officers worked around the clock to help them, including a group of Vermont students, one of whom had lost his passport. 

Just last week, another Vermont student was released after two weeks in a Syrian jail, thanks to the persistent diplomacy of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and other U.S. Embassy officials, as well as the Syrian Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, who helped convince his government that a mistake had been made.  My office worked closely with them, as is customary when a constituent is in trouble in a foreign land.

As every Member of Congress knows, there are countless examples like these, involving Americans from every state, which are not reported in the press. 

As the international affairs budget faces deep cuts in fiscal year 2011 and in the future, it is important to be reminded of the invaluable assistance provided by the State Department and USAID to American citizens abroad, their families in the United States, and others impacted by foreign crises. 

It is also important to be reminded that Members of Congress, and the American people, cannot have it both ways.  You cannot on the one hand support drastic budget cuts, and at the same time expect the agencies that are losing personnel and resources to be able to respond as needed to help Americans when disaster strikes.

Today the crushing demands on the State Department for American citizen services are unprecedented.  In the past month alone, the Department has issued travel warnings and alerts related to political unrest or natural disasters in six countries.  Americans rely on their State Department for current, accurate travel information.

Since the earthquake and tsunami, U.S. consular officers in Japan and Washington have worked ceaselessly to assist Americans in Japan, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo deployed teams to the Tohoku region to locate American citizens and help them find transportation away from the devastated areas.  USAID sent search and rescue teams and emergency response experts to Japan.

They were doing the same thing a little over a year ago in Haiti, after the catastrophic earthquake there.

As much of the world’s attention has shifted to Libya, the State Department continues to closely monitor the situation in Japan including the impact of the damage to the nuclear power plant, and to provide updated detailed travel warnings and information for Americans considering travel to Japan.

Throughout North Africa and the Middle East, to prevent chaos and suffering at borders and surrounding areas, the State Department and the USAID have provided food, water and other humanitarian aid to refugees and internally displaced persons.

It is regrettable that despite these realities, so many in Congress support reckless cuts in operations for the State Department and USAID.  It makes no sense to wait until these agencies can no longer function effectively before we recognize that we cannot ignore events beyond our borders, and that the services Americans expect from their government cost money.  In fact, the cost of everything – fuel, transport, rent, communications, and security – is going up, while budgets are being cut.   

An unfortunate trend is taking hold here.  Demand cuts in spending and in the taxes to pay for it, while expecting that it will not affect the government services you take for granted. 

Mr. President, the world is a dangerous place and unanticipated disasters of every kind are occurring with remarkable frequency.  American citizens are spread far and wide around the globe, and they rely on the State Department and USAID to protect their livelihoods and their security every day.  For that, the people who serve in these agencies deserve our thanks and our support.

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