Two Florida Republicans -- U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack -- seek to make major cuts and changes to American international policy with the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, which they pushed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the committee, introduced the bill which authorizes almost $6.5 billion less than what President Barack Obama originally proposed.
“This bill authorizes responsible spending levels based on those contained in the bipartisan, carefully negotiated fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution that was signed into law earlier this year,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Wednesday. “I hear the demands of the American people to stop the spending spree, and that is why I am unwilling to agree to the huge overall spending increase that the president wanted in this bill. My legislation protects and advances our national security interests and priorities while rejecting the notion that it takes more government and more spending to do so. The bill implements numerous common-sense reforms to save money and increase the effectiveness of our programs.”
The proposal, backed by Ros-Lehtinen and congressional Republicans, cuts security assistance to Middle Eastern governments until they can prove they are free from the influence of organizations with ties to radical groups or terrorist organizations.
“We must require specific certifications from the administration prior to the distribution of any further security assistance to Pakistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Yemen to ensure that such assistance is halted if it jeopardizes U.S. security interests or is benefiting or being manipulated by extremist groups,” Ros-Lehtinen said, who added that her proposal would help continue American support for Israel. “The U.S.-Israel alliance is vital to the safety and security of both nations, and this bill continues Congress’s bipartisan commitment of fully funding security assistance for Israel.”
Mack, chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, looked to amend the bill to cut funding to five Latin American nations: Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. Also to cut American funding to the Organization of American States (OAS), pull the plug on the Global Climate Change Initiative Activities and list Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.
"Let's engage our allies and friends, but let's not continue to support organizations and countries that perpetuate destruction of freedom and democracy,” Mack said. “With our financial house in disarray in our homeland, the least the Congress and the president can do is streamline our foreign dollars to our allies and engage in efforts to improve our economy at home -- such as the immediate passage of the pending free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Additionally, with American businesses saddled with environmental protections already, other countries should do their part to improve the global climate, not just the U.S.”
Democrats on the committee, led by U.S. Rep. Howard Berman of California, poked holes at the bill, arguing that the State Department needed more funds.
“I appreciate the fact that the authorization levels for the State Department and certain foreign assistance are more or less the same as in the fiscal year 2011 budget deal,” said Berman. “But I thought the numbers were too low when the deal was passed, and I continue to believe that today. As our nation’s top military leaders have said repeatedly, diplomacy and development – along with defense – are the key pillars of our national security strategy. By short-changing two of the three legs of that national security stool, we undermine our ability to respond to crises, promote stability, and pursue a wide range of U.S. interests around the world. This will inevitably result in greater reliance on the military, and end up costing us much more in the long run.”
Berman took aim at Mack’s call to cut the more than $48 million sent to OAS which relies on the federal government for 60 percent of its funding. While Mack and other critics maintain that OAS helps Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela and Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba, Berman insisted that cutting OAS would help Chavez. Cuba is not a member of the OAS.
“I am also troubled by the authorization level for peacekeeping account, which will put us back into arrears with the U.N., and oppose the cap on funding for the OAS, which will only strengthen the hand of Hugo Chavez,” said Berman.
Florida Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who is also on the committee, joined Mack on Wednesday in urging the passage of pending free-trade deals with Colombia and Panama.
Noting that it was the 201st anniversary of Colombian independence, Rivera, who represents more Americans of Colombian heritage than any other member of Congress, weighed in on the pending deal with that nation.
“Over time, Colombia has become one of our strongest allies in Latin America and continues to emerge as a great leader in the region and the hemisphere,” said Rivera. “I look forward to the day when we are able to pass and implement the Colombia free-trade agreement -- a pact that will be good for both the U.S. and Colombia’s economies, creating thousands of American jobs. I encourage President Obama to let this be the last Colombian Independence Day that goes by without passage of the free-trade agreement with our steadfast friend in Latin America.”
The committee will continue marking up the proposal, which is expected to pass the Republican-controlled U.S. House but will face severe challenges in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
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