Engel Condemns White House's Draconian Cuts to American Diplomacy and Leadership
- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today condemned the White House’s proposed draconian cuts of nearly one third to the international affairs budget. In testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies, Rep. Engel warned that such cuts would threaten American security and undermine American leadership around the world. A transcript of his testimony follows.
“Mr. Chairman, thank you. And thank you, Ranking Member Lowey, and all the members of the subcommittee.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to talk about the need for continued strong investment in American security through our international affairs budget.
“Congress, as we all say many times, is a coequal branch of government, and, according to the Constitution, we appropriate funds or you appropriate funds. We don’t just have to roll over because any White House says so. This year, we’re going to have to put that idea to the test.
“This morning we learned that the White House wants to cut nearly one third of the international affairs budget next year. That obviously would be a disaster. In fact, slashing our international engagement by even a fraction of that, at a time when we’re facing serious challenges around the world, would be an absolute disaster.
“What’s worse, we know from earlier reporting that the Administration wants to cut even more. Senior State Department official told me that rather than getting there in one stroke, they want instead to put the department on a “glide path” to achieving greater reductions.
“The way I see it, whether you nosedive into the side of a mountain or you’re on a glide path into the side of a mountain, you still end up on the side of a mountain.
“And that’s why more than 100 of our colleagues joined me in making the case to Secretary Tillerson that such cuts would be a catastrophic mistake. I ask that this letter be included as part of the record. It’s the same case I’m making here this morning.
“I also spoke with Secretary Tillerson on the phone last week and voiced my objections, although we didn’t know specifically how bad these cuts would be.
“The world can be a dangerous place. And there will be times when the only option for keeping America safe is the use of military force. We have the greatest military in the world, and I have always supported a strong national defense, even when people threaten me for doing so. The men and women who wear our uniform put their lives on the line to protect our country. So we owe it to them to exhaust every possible option before we send them into harm’s way.
“By cutting support for American diplomacy and development, we’re betraying that commitment. If we don’t give these efforts their due, we are not exhausting every option and instead unnecessarily putting our troops at risk.
“Because what the State Department does, what USAID and MCC and the Peace Corps does, and what our funding for the United Nations supports, we’re stopping crises before they start. Mr. Chairman, I brought with me a letter from the AJC underscoring the need for continued American engagement with the UN, and I ask that it be included in the record.
“Diplomats work out disagreements across a conference table or in quiet corners, so they don’t need to be resolved on the battlefield with bombs and bullets. Diplomacy makes old friendships stronger and builds new bridges to connect with new partners.
“Development efforts aren’t charity. They’re investments in countries and communities to help them become more stable, healthy, and prosperous. Poverty creates hotbeds for violence, crime, and corruption, and those problems inevitably spill over into neighboring countries. Development assistance, on the other hand, builds stronger partners on the world stage, partners who will share our values and priorities.
“As you said before Mr. Chairman, this kind of aid is less than one percent of the total budget. I know the consensus is that it’s a whole bunch more, but it’s less than one percent. And what’s more, that means these efforts cost pennies on the dollar compared to military engagement.
“Look at the Peace Corps. It’s staffed by volunteers who get paid dollars a day, but work full time to project American leadership and improve our relationships in some of the most challenging places in the world. That’s a pretty good bang for our buck.
“So if we slash investment in diplomacy and development, we’re telling our servicemembers—and the American people—we’ll take our chances down the road, even if that may mean a much steeper cost in terms of American blood and American treasure.
“When the time comes, what will we say to constituents who want to know, ‘Could you have done more? Did you have the chance to put out this fire before it burned out of control?’ What will we say to mothers and fathers who ask, ‘Did my son or daughter really have to make the ultimate sacrifice, or could we have stopped the crisis before it started so that my child could have come home?’
“There’s another cost. If the United States draws back from the world stage, what signal does that send? What does it say to countries that look to our values and our leadership? What does it say to other big powers—maybe those that don’t share our values or our interests; I can think of a country beginning with an ‘R’—when they see the void we’ve left behind?
“History has shown us what we can get by retreating into a defensive, isolationist crouch. If we aren’t carrying the mantle of global leadership, make no mistake, someone else will pick it up, and we may not like what we see. Don’t want Russia picking it up, don’t want China picking it up, don’t want any of these countries that don’t share our values picking it up, and they will if we retreat.
“The American people don’t want to see that happen to our country. In fact, recent data shows that 72 percent of Americans believe our country should play a leading global role. Nearly six in 10 believe funding levels at the State Department should stay the same or increase.
“As for military experts, here’s a letter signed by more than 120 retired generals and admirals. They write, “We urge you to ensure that resources for the International Affairs Budget keep pace with the growing global threats and opportunities we face. Now is not the time to retreat.” I ask that this letter be included in the record in its entirety.
“Secretary of Defense Mattis himself said in 2013:
If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.
“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Lowey, I feel that following the Administration’s path forward for our international affairs budget is the equivalent of retreat. It’s a retreat from our role as a global leader. It’s retreat from our alliances and our careful diplomatic efforts to curb proliferation, human rights abuses, and climate change. It’s a retreat from the lifesaving work we do all over the world, whether that’s fighting HIV/AIDS, combating tuberculosis, or battling modern slavery. And it’s retreat from our solemn commitment that military force must always remain a measure of last resort, not first.
“Mr. Chairman, let me close with this question to think about. If you were an American diplomat, or a development expert, or a Peace Corps volunteer and you woke up this morning and heard the news, what would you think? How would you react to learning that your government only wants to pay seven cents on the dollar for your service and sacrifice for your country? What would you think if you were an American ally relying on our continued leadership in the world promoting freedom, and democracy, and the rule of law?
“I fear that this budget request is sending a chilling shockwave across the globe and that shockwave will come back on us. Diseases we don’t prevent will reach our shores, the conflicts we don’t help resolve will grow into the wars we need to fight. The places where we fail to plant the seeds of friendship today may tomorrow become fertile grounds for violence and hatred toward America.
“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Lowey, you are both in a unique position to do something about it, to guarantee America’s role in the world going forward. I encourage this committee to support a strong international affairs budget and I’m again thankful for the time today. I yield back.”