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House bill strong on security, weak in diplomacy, foreign aid

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 7:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — House Republicans proposed slashing billions of dollars in diplomacy and overseas aid programs on Thursday in legislation that will face fierce opposition from the Obama administration and the Democratic-led Senate.

The House appropriations committee's 2014 foreign operations bill would give full funding to embassy security, with the goal of preventing a repeat of last year's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya. The measure would maintain security money for allies Israel and Jordan.

But it would cut heavily in other areas, taking spending down to $34.1 billion. That's $8 billion, or about 20 percent, less than last year. Along with proposed cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, the measure includes some of the most severe elements of the GOP's cost-cutting effort.

“Given all of the country's needs and fiscal realities, we must prioritize our very limited funds on only the most important international activities,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.

His bill, he said, decreases spending for “lower-priority programs or those that we simply cannot afford at this time.”

Those include all of the State Department's money to combat climate change and promote clean technology, as well as funding for several U.N. and international organizations.

The federal Agency for International Development's budget would drop about 11 percent to $1.4 billion, while the State Department's funding level for foreign government assistance would fall by a fourth to $17.3 billion.

Tough conditions would be attached on aid to Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan and the Palestinians.

Republicans are seeking again to block U.S. funds to any U.N. body or international family planning group that may be involved in abortion, a change that the Senate has knocked down several times since Obama overturned the policy of President George W. Bush.

Much in the bill is unlikely to become law. Since leaving the Senate to become America's top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly made the case that foreign assistance programs represent less than 1 percent of the federal budget, far less than the impression given by some lawmakers. The White House, too, opposes extreme cuts to foreign operations.

“We are very concerned,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. “These proposed cuts, which would be devastating if put into effect, would hurt our ability to stand up for American interests and values around the world. The U.S. can't lead if we retreat in this way.”

Harf said the proposed 41 percent cut in economic development assistance would hurt countries suffering from severe poverty, such as Afghanistan and Somalia, and regional partners such as Mexico and Colombia; and force cutbacks in anti-hunger programs in Africa.

Like other agencies, the State Department has had to adapt to across-the-board automatic spending reductions that went into effect earlier this year. The cuts forced the United States to cut $2.6 billion in global humanitarian aid, security funds and other programs in some of the world's most unstable regions.

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