WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his general support for the Fiscal Year 2017 State Department budget request during the February 23 hearing. He noted with concern the insufficient allocation towards good governance and democracy programs, and the continued trend of reliance on Overseas Contingency Operations funds instead of well-balanced baseline funding levels.
Senator Cardin’s remarks as delivered can be found below:
“Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this hearing. It’s always a pleasure to work with you.
“And Secretary Kerry, it’s really a pleasure to have you before your former committee. And I’d first start by acknowledging this is the last budget that President Obama and his administration will be submitting to us. So I just really want to reflect for a moment on your extraordinary leadership in advancing America’s soft power through the effective use of diplomacy and development assistance.
“Secretary Kerry, you understand more than anyone else as the former chair of this committee the importance of diplomacy and development assistance to our national security. For that, I just congratulate you on an incredible record of accomplishment as secretary of State. You understand that military must be our last resort and you have carried that out through developing partnerships with other countries and coalitions so that we can be effective with our soft power.
“The most recent is the hope that we have in Syria through the cease-fire to stop the killings and to allow humanitarian access, which is a critically important first step to resolving the conflict within Syria so that we can focus on ISIL without the fighting going on between the Assad regime and the opposition. And you did it in a way that doesn’t compromise our position in regards to President Assad’s future and his accountability for war crimes that he has committed.
“I also want to thank your staff. They’ve been incredibly accessible to us with providing information that I think is vital to our needs. So to Julia Frifield and the entire team, thank you for what you’ve been able to do.
“I generally support the president’s budget. I think it speaks to the right priorities in regards to the State Department. It deals with the threat from emanating from ISIL in the Middle East and Northern Africa, $4 billion to fight — the (ph) counter of violent extremism. It supports the rebalance to Asia and recognizes the challenges that we have in Asia relative to China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“I was pleased to see that we have enacted, as the chairman pointed out, the North Korea sanction bill. The president signed it into law. We’re always stronger when the Congress and the administration work together to advance American foreign policy.
“The budget deals with challenges in our own hemisphere, it particularly mentioned the Central America Northern Triangle. We still have the problems of unaccompanied children coming to our borders. I was in Honduras and El Salvador, saw firsthand the violence in the communities through the gang-controlled areas. We must do more in order to make that country safe. The president’s billion-dollar request — I hope we will support that, dealing with the good governance and protection of communities as well as the security issues in Central America.
“The budget deals with Russia’s aggression in east and central Europe, particularly support the $953 million to improve democracy and good governance and anti-corruption to promote European integration. I think that’s critically important. It’s the first year — anniversary of the Minsk II agreement. We know Russia has not complied with the military aspects, but it’s incumbent upon Ukraine to comply with the good governance aspects if there’s going to be lasting peace in Ukraine, and this budget allows us to advance to those challenges.
“The budget provides for the continued support of Israel for its QME, $3.1 billion of security assistance recognizing we are in a process of negotiating the next chapter in the Memorandum of Understanding.
“And it provides U.S. leadership on climate change. I was pleased to be part of 10 members who were in Paris for COP 21. We saw firsthand America’s leadership, your leadership in the international community coming together. This budget carries out our commitments.
“I’m going to refer a couple of times to the visit under CODEL flight. We were just in the southern part of Africa and we saw firsthand the impact of continued drought on the survivability of those countries in the southern part of Africa. Their way of life is at jeopardy today because we were there during the rainy season, we saw no rain, and this is the second year in a row that they have had this — this — this impact.
“And the New York Times today points out that research teams report fastest sea rise in 28 centuries, 28 centuries, and the budget does deal with carrying out our commitments on climate change so that we can continue to provide the leadership needed globally to deal with this crisis of our times.
“The budget deals with Africa, carrying out the Africa leaders summit — the commitments that were made there on power Africa, trade Africa, young African leadership leaders. I think that’s all very important and it carries out our values, from providing international leadership on the refugees to humanitarian needs that is global, to maternal and child health that feed the future. It deals with the Zika virus in Latin America and deals with aids regeneration.
“Mr. Secretary, when we were in Namibia, we had a chance to visit an aids site and see firsthand, talk to — Senator (inaudible) and I had a chance to interview with about 30, 40 aids patients. One asked that we relay to the leaders of our country their thanks because literally, they are alive today because of U.S. efforts. There is a whole generation alive today working in their economies and their future as a result of U.S. leadership on PEPFAR.
“It makes a huge difference what we do on development assistance around the world. We now have a stable country in Namibia that wants to work with the United States and it’s a direct result of our involvement.
“I want to also thank you for including $60 million for trafficking in humans, Senator Corker’s been one of our great leaders on the trafficking issue to end modern-day slavery, and we appreciate the funds that are put in.
“So I’m positive on the budget that’s been submitted, but I want to conclude on two points that I’m not as pleased about. First, there is not enough allocation in good governance and democracy in this budget. The small amount of moneys that we put into democracy building, we saw that in the four countries we visited, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The small dollars that are available are having incredible results. It’s what America stands for and we need to do a better job in providing resources to promote democracy globally.
“And then secondly, I’m very concerned about the OCO funding versus the baseline funding. I think we need to talk about that. The budget provides $50.1 billion in the — in allocations for foreign assistance, but only $35.2 billion is in baseline funding, as this chart points out. That’s been a declining sum that’s in the baseline and the reality of our world is that this budget provides our national security and it needs to be grounded and sustainable and ongoing for the safety of our nation.
“And I am concerned that by not having the baseline high enough, we run the risk in the future. Now, I know the realities of the politics of the budget, here. This is not the administration’s doing. But we need to make it clear that on national security, soft power, that we are committed not only to this year, but a sustained growth of America’s presence globally. And I would hope that we would get a larger sum in the baseline.
“I look forward to your — your comments and I thank you again for your leadership.”