US Congress Rejecting Cuts in Foreign Aid, Diplomacy

11 September, 2017

United States congressional committees have rejected proposals to sharply cut spending for U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance programs.

In his first budget, President Donald Trump called for a reduction of nearly one third in the State Department's budget. The State Department directs U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts across the world.

On September 7, a Senate committee voted to continue most State Department spending at current levels. A House committee earlier also rejected many of the proposed cuts.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees State Department spending.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carlina, right, with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, speaks during a news conference on September 5, 2017.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carlina, right, with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, speaks during a news conference on September 5, 2017.

Graham said that America faces major problems, such as the conflict over North Korea's nuclear weapons, disputes with Russia and China, and threats from Islamic State militants.

"Now is not the time for retreat, now is the time to double down on diplomacy and development," Graham said. By double down, he means to increase efforts rather than cut spending.

Heather Nauert is the official spokesperson for the State Department and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She defended the spending cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

"Just because a budget reflects a smaller number on the part of the administration does not mean that diplomacy is not important. This administration values that. We all value that. The 75,000 people who work here each and every day here and around the world value that, and we keep pushing forward with it."

Tillerson is expected to announce a reorganization plan for the State Department on September 15. It is expected to suggest ways the department could carry out diplomatic and other responsibilities at a lower cost.

One idea Tillerson may be considering is to move the processing of passports, visas and other travel documents from the State Department to the Department of Homeland Security.

A study found the change would save money and improve security, the Reuters news agency reported. The study was done for a company that is advising Tillerson on the State Department reorganization plan.

Last month, Tillerson told senators that he plans to eliminate some special envoys that work on foreign policy issues for the government, Foreign Policy Magazine reported.

Special envoys work on international issues considered important by government officials. Among the positions proposed for cancellation are those working for the rights of disabled persons and promoting peace in Africa.

Some of the work done by envoys will be given to other State Department offices, Tillerson said. He added that other envoys are no longer needed because their work was already completed.

Money to deal with militants

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would provide $500 million to hold, repopulate and establish government services in areas freed from Islamic State rule in Iraq and Syria.

The bill would also provide $3.1 billion to support refugees affected by conflict and "other natural and man-made disasters," with another $3.1 billion for international disaster assistance.

About $19 million would be provided to help women and girls at risk from extremism in majority Muslim nations and other countries.

The bill would also provide $8 million for programs "to promote human rights" in North Korea and another $15 million to support "democracy and rule of law" in Venezuela.

Both House and Senate spending bills provide no money for the Green Climate Fund. The Senate committee's spending report notes that President Trump did not request any money for the program.

Trump has withdrawn the United States from the 2016 Paris climate agreement. Under the deal, 165 nations agreed to work together to stop rising temperatures in Earth's atmosphere.

Earlier this month, Congress approved a "continuing funding resolution," which provides money for most federal spending through December 31. Final congressional votes on funding for the State Department and other agencies for the remaining nine months of the 2018 fiscal year will come later.

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Cindy Saine reported on this story for VOANews. Bruce Alpert adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

retreat - v. the act or process of moving away

pushing - v. to move forward

recommendation - n. a suggestion about what should be done

eliminate - v. to get rid of a position

promote - v. to advance a cause or outcome

fiscal year - n. a 12-month period used by a government, business, or organization to calculate how much money is being raised and spent