01.26.10

Statement On Proposed Cuts to the State Department Budget

Mr. LEAHY . Mr. President, first, I thank my friend from Alabama for yielding time.

AMENDMENT NO. 3303

Among the $120 billion in funding cuts that would be required by the Coburn amendment is a $1.3 billion rescission from the State Department. Section 13 of the amendment specifically directs the Secretary of State to eliminate two programs--the East-West Center and the Asia Foundation--saying this would produce savings.

Even if it made sense to eliminate these programs which have a long history of achievement for our Nation and strong bipartisan, bicameral support, to do so would produce savings of only $42 million--a long way from the $120 billion about which he spoke. The Senator's amendment does not say where the balance of the $1.3 billion cut would come from.

The Senator's Web site mentions two other small programs within the State and Foreign Operations budget that he believes should be cut which total $25 million, and $20 million of that, incidentally, is for the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, something that gets us praise around the world and actually protects the well-being of everybody in this country. It has long been supported by the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The explanation of the Senator from Oklahoma for eliminating these funds is that other nations should be responsible for the conservation of their own tropical forests. Would that it were so. But when they get cut down, they affect those of us in Vermont, Colorado, Oklahoma, or anywhere else. In fact, it is like saying to other nations, no matter how impoverished--for example, Haiti--that they should take care of their own health needs. That ignores the fact that deadly viruses, such as HIV and TB, are as oblivious to national boundaries as are carbon emissions from the destruction of tropical forests. It is a shortsighted and unworkable approach to global problems that affect the American people directly.

In defense of his proposal to rescind $1.3 billion from the State Department, Senator Coburn cites more than $13 billion in funding for Iraq reconstruction that has been wasted, stolen, or lost. I see my good friend from Oklahoma on the floor. I say in that regard, there is no doubt there was deplorable waste, fraud, and abuse of U.S. taxpayer funds by contractors, such as Halliburton, that received no-bid, sweetheart contracts under the last Republican administration. It was probably the most poorly implemented nation-building program in history. At that time, the Republican Congress rubber-stamped those funds that were wasted--probably not wasted if you were a shareholder of Halliburton; you thought it was a good idea because they walked off with so much of it. The White House even opposed efforts by some of us, including Republicans, to create the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that discovered the misuse of funds.

I also remind everybody that it was the Republican Congress, with a Republican President, that inherited the largest surplus in America's history, created by a Democratic administration, that of President Clinton's, that left a surplus that was paying down the national debt, left a huge surplus to the incoming Republican President. The Republican Congress not only voted to use that surplus to pay for an unnecessary war in Iraq but even cut taxes when we were fighting what ended up being two wars. It is the only time in our Nation's history we have done that--spend the surplus, cut taxes, and somehow these wars that have been going on now for 8 years would pay for themselves.

I think to use the last Republican administration's waste of taxpayer dollars in Iraq as a rationale to rescind funds today that have bipartisan support for the security of our embassies and our diplomats overseas and for programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, the Middle East, Indonesia, Mexico, Central Asia, Israel, and Egypt, where the threats to U.S. national security interests are beyond dispute, would be foolhardy.

Every one of us should agree that not every Federal program deserves to be funded and certainly not because it was funded in the past. I have voted to cut programs in the Appropriations Committee and on this floor because they have gone beyond their useful life span or were ineffective. Some programs are effective. Those that are not should be eliminated.

But the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, with leadership between myself and the senior Senator from New Hampshire, Mr. Gregg--we spent the better part of last year making difficult choices of what to fund and what to cut. The Appropriations Committee approved those choices, Republicans and Democrats, all 29 members, with one dissenting vote, and that was on another issue involving abortion. This amendment would cut funding to combat HIV, TB. Countries receive help from us, from Colombia, to Israel, to Egypt, to Mexico. The Senator from Oklahoma, with one strike of the pen, would arbitrarily slash 5 percent of that funding. Should we look for places where we can save money, where programs are not meeting their goals? Of course. But to do it this way, willy-nilly, picking a percentage out of the air with no concern for the consequences, does not protect the security of the American people.

There is another section of the amendment about which I would like to speak. Section 5 of the amendment directs the Secretary of Education to work with the Secretaries of other relevant agencies to consolidate and reduce the cost of administering the student foreign exchange and international education programs. These exchanges are some of the most strongly supported programs by both Democrats and Republicans in the foreign aid budget.

This amendment takes aim at the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship Program, as well as several Department of Education international education and research programs, some of which are administered by the State Department, and a National Science Foundation program.

The Benjamin Gilman Program, created by Congress, provides scholarships to American undergraduates to study abroad, including students in nontraditional destinations, or to study critical languages, such as Arabic, Persian, and Chinese. Our military, and our intelligence agencies, say there is an unmet need for Americans who can speak these languages. Senator Coburn would cut funding for it.

   The Department of Education's Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship Program provides funding for foreign language study at U.S. universities, and several of these programs focus on strengthening study in international business and education, at a time when we are becoming more and more aware we cannot compete just within our borders. Our businesses have to be able to compete with other countries around the world or we lose jobs in America. We should be strengthening our study of international business and education, not cutting these programs.

   The amendment would cut other successful exchanges, such as the Fulbright-Hayes programs for teachers, high school students, graduate students, and business professionals. These exchanges bring foreigners with a range of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds to the United States and they send Americans overseas. At a time when America should be reaching out around the world for our security, for our businesses, we should not be cutting these programs which have been woefully underfunded as both Republicans and Democrats have pointed out.

The Institute for International Education is one example of an organization that effectively administers these programs. It provides citizens of other countries with a chance to learn firsthand about American culture, our values, our government, and our way of life. These are among the most effective ways of countering the misrepresentation and false stereotypes about the United States that we see perpetrated by extremists.

Some of these programs and their predecessors I saw during the Cold War period. I remember one of the early meetings I had, along with several others, with President Ronald Reagan. He had spoken about the evil empire, and he said: What would you suggest we do? Of the suggestions that several of us made, I said this: Why don't you visit the Soviet Union and invite their leader to come to the United States next year and visit here?

He said: Why?

I said: Because you really don't know much about them. I pressed him a little on that, but he heard me out, and I said: But they do not know much about you either, and it would force them to learn about you and your staff, and it would force us to learn about them and their staff.

Later, in his second term, President Reagan told me that was some of the best advice he ever got. We know how triumphant his visit was to the Soviet Union and how triumphant it was when Mr. Gorbachev came here, and the two of them learned about each other and worked together to lower the threat of nuclear war.

That is just one example.

Mr. COBURN. Would the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. LEAHY . Without losing my right to the floor.

Mr. COBURN. No problem there.

Is the Senator aware that the foreign ops appropriation increased by 11 percent in 2009 and 33 percent last year? Yet the Senator is saying we can't trim 5 percent from that budget? Am I hearing the Senator correctly? We increased it 46 percent in 2 years, and we can't cut 5 percent?

Mr. LEAHY . I would tell the Senator from Oklahoma that if you look over the last 10 years, there have been significant shortfalls in many of these programs, and in personnel. The increases began first at the request of former President George W. Bush, and then followed by President Obama because they realized the need for us to have these programs for our own security.

My response would be: Where do we make cuts? Your amendment does not say. Do we start with individual countries--Israel, Egypt, and so on? Do we start with programs to combat HIV, or malaria, or programs to eliminate childhood diseases in Africa? These exchanges enable Americans and foreigners to conduct scientific research to increase understanding and cooperation.

Rather than cut funding, Senators on both sides of the aisle have consistently urged the Appropriations Committee to increase funding to expand our efforts to promote better understanding of the United States. If we had funded all the requests for increases, it would be considerably more than it was. Senator Gregg and I stayed within our allocation. Also, I think it was the only appropriations subcommittee that reported a bill with no earmarks.

If there are ways of consolidating to reduce some administrative costs without harming the effectiveness or reducing opportunities to participate in these exchange programs, I am for it. But rather than by amendment to the debt ceiling bill, rather than giving carte blanche to the administration--or any administration--let's consider this in the normal appropriations process in a deliberative way.

Mr. President, we actually work hard on these bills. We make difficult choices. Some things get funded, others do not. We vote up or down. We have to stay within our budget, and we did, and we did it without earmarks. So I believe the amendment should be rejected.

It sounds nice we should just eliminate $2 billion in waste. Who would not want that? Let us be specific. Let us make the hard choices and say where the cuts are going to come from. The Senator's amendment does not do that. I recall a Republican President who gave great speeches about a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, and then during his administration tripled the national debt. I have heard great speeches by people who have voted to cut taxes during two wars, by people who instead of using the surplus left by the last Democratic President squandered it in a year's time.

Mr. President, I see the distinguished majority leader on the Senate floor, so I yield the floor.

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