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Public Statements

Washington, Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BERMAN. Madam Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from California is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. BERMAN. Madam Chairman, it seems to me that in this frenzied competition to see who can cut the most and the fastest, we are losing all sense of reason and rationality. I am deeply concerned by what I see happening to the international affairs budget which is contained in this title XI of the bill before us.

In the past, the State Department and foreign appropriations bill has passed with strong bipartisan support, often by an overwhelming margin. Members of both parties have understood how important diplomacy and development are, not only to U.S. standing in the world, but to our country's own economic growth, to American jobs and to American national security.

They recognize that problems such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the spread of deadly disease cannot be resolved unilaterally. They know that over the long term, the best way to create more jobs at home is to build more export markets overseas. They understand that we cannot defeat violent extremism by military means alone and that, as Secretary Gates said last fall, ``Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.

Yet the process by which this CR has been produced makes a mockery of the responsibilities we have as Members of Congress to advance our economy and protect our national security.

First, the Republican leadership announced a plan to make $44 billion in cuts. Then we started hearing other numbers: $58 billion, $74 billion, $100 billion. Each time it is measured a different way by a different baseline. And no matter how high the number goes, there are proposals to cut even deeper.

These numbers weren't chosen because they looked at programs and said, Here is something that is not working, or, Here is something we don't need to do. No, the number was purely arbitrary, plucked out of a hat, totally unrelated to any thoughtful calculation of what was actually needed and how much that cost.

This bill isn't about making government more cost effective or more efficient. It doesn't promote the kinds of reforms and streamlining that are needed to ensure that our aid reaches those who need it most. It is simply a slash-and-burn process, hacking away with a machete without consideration for all the critically important work that is being destroyed or how it affects our national security.

The base bill itself might be laughable if it weren't so appalling. Humanitarian programs to provide lifesaving assistance, food, water, medicine and plastic sheeting to victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and famines is cut by 50 percent. Do we really intend to stand idly by as innocent men, women, and children starve to death? Will we turn off our television sets when we see people's homes and livelihoods wiped away by an unexpected catastrophe?

It is not just disaster aid that is affected. Every other program that protects the poorest and most vulnerable people is savaged: refugee aid, food aid, water and sanitation, massive cuts in international efforts to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, funding for the diplomats and aid workers who carry out these programs is also slashed. If there is anything we have learned over the past few years, it ought to be that we just don't hand over money to contractors and governments without adequate oversight and accountability.

Over the last month, we have all watched the incredible events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt. The United States did not create these democracy movements and does not control them. But our diplomats did and do play a large role in helping to promote peaceful, negotiated solutions so that the will of the people can be heard.

Our security assistance helped professionalize forces in both of those countries so they did not crush the demonstrators with force, as has happened in so many other places. And yet this bill and many of the proposed amendments would slash the kinds of assistance we provide nascent democracy movements and human rights activists under other authoritarian regimes.

Somehow, the draconian cuts in this bill were not enough for many in this body. Added on top of all these cuts, we now face amendments to remove ourselves completely from the United Nations, to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for Democracy and the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. Institute of Peace. They would prohibit us from taking action to address climate change and increase the availability of voluntary family planning for couples who cannot feed the children they already have. They would cut aid to countries whose support is essential to us in the areas of counterterrorism, intelligence and nonproliferation just because they don't vote with us in the United Nations.

There is one thing the authors of these amendments don't seem to understand: Aid is not a gift. The United States provides foreign assistance because it serves our interests. Helping countries become more democratic, more stable, more capable of defending themselves and better at pulling themselves also out of poverty is just as important for us as it is for them.

Madam Chairman, the cuts to international spending in this bill will not create a single U.S. job. In fact, they will cost jobs.


Mr. BERMAN. Madam Chairman, I plan to vote against this amendment.

I want to just make two points: one, the gentleman from New York's argument is very good if, in fact, U.S. Institute of Peace was simply another think tank. If it were, then why shouldn't they compete like other think tanks do for projects and contracts through the discretionary funds of the appropriate agencies and decided on that basis?

But the U.S. Institute of Peace is not just the Brookings Institute or the Heritage Foundation. It's really more of a ``do'' tank than a think tank. It engages very specifically in projects, implementing projects that have direct benefits for our forces and for our diplomats based on their charter.

Secondly, if we're going to zero out the U.S. Institute of Peace because it's no longer necessary because it isn't worthy of a direct earmark, then repeal the legislation that created it. There wasn't legislation that created Heritage or Brookings or American Enterprise Institute. These were private organizations. The U.S. Institute of Peace was created by legislation, passed by both Houses. This wasn't dropped in in some conference committee. This was a piece of legislation that authorized and created that institute. And what the appropriators do each year is decide what appropriation should come, as the gentlelady from Texas said in her opening remarks.

They've already taken a whack out of the Institute of Peace for this particular year because--in some cases, they took a bigger whack out of some programs that I wish they hadn't done, but they have cut this. But then to come back with legislation to repeal the authorizing legislation, and then there will be nothing to earmark for, nothing to fund.

The fact is, yeah, it's a nice building and it's right next door to a pretty drab building, the State Department. The State Department may not like the building they're in, but they sure like to use the U.S. Institute of Peace for a whole variety of activities that they think they're able to get value added from, and they choose to direct and work with and contract with and partner with the U.S. Institute of Peace on a whole variety of projects, as does the Pentagon.

I urge a ``no'' vote.


Mr. BERMAN. I respect that the gentleman is not saying they shouldn't exist. But this isn't a matter of whether or not they should exist. It's that we, by statute, decided to create them for very specific purposes. If you don't think this is worthy of Federal funds, then put in legislation to repeal the authorization and the creation of this institute. Don't keep a statute on the books that creates an institution which we're now going to take away the direct appropriation for.


Mr. BERMAN. If retroactively you could undo the money that was spent to build the building, make that argument. You are right now trying to zero out the appropriation for the programs of an institute that Congress created through legislation passed in both Houses. Put in a bill to repeal the legislation, and then we will go through the arguments about its merits or not and decide. Don't wipe it out through this indirect fashion. If you put in legislation, the authorizing committees will consider that legislation. This isn't the right way to do it.

I urge a ``no'' vote.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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