State Dept Budget Gets Pushback in Senate

Feb 28, 2012 6:47pm
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Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged from two back-to-back Senate committees today without a clear momentum for the fiscal year 2013 State Department budget.

The agency has requested $54.7 billion in funding, an increase of 2.6 percent. Clinton says the request represents slightly over 1 percent of the total federal budget and doesn’t cover the rate of inflation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called the proposal “budgeting by inertia” and said it disproportionately allocated resources to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan given rising issues in East Asia and the Americas. Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the State Department budget.

“It’s going to be difficult to get a bill through this year,” Leahy said.

But “painful cuts” had already hit the department, according to Clinton, including an 18 percent decrease in funding for Eurasian programs.

The US presence in Iraq was a target for critics, with Leahy singling out a $4.8 billion request for the US Embassy in Baghdad. Such an expenditure, he said, was a “symbol of grandiose and unrealistic ambitions in that country.”

Clinton told the panel the embassy was still in the process of “right-sizing” its resources. Earlier this month it was announced State had would cut 10 percent of funding from the program.

The State Department budget includes a new $770 million fund that Clinton says would be used exclusively for unexpected issues to arise in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the secretary, during the early days of the Arab Spring the State Department had to “carve out” $360 million from existing programs to support U.S. efforts, a tactic that proved logistically “awkward.” The new fund would be a savings bank specifically for unanticipated regional issues.

Secretary Clinton says it was inspired by a similar program used during the fall of the Soviet Union to counter hunger in Poland and Hungary.

Clinton faced panels from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Relations, and Related Projects.

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