Trump plan to slash spending on diplomacy, aid raises hackles in Congress

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed slashing of funds for diplomacy and foreign aid faced immediate resistance in Congress yesterday, as some of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in opposing cuts to what they see as essential “soft power” spending in the face of global threats.

Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he expected members of his party and Democrats would work together to fight the cuts.

The administration wants $37.8 billion for the State Department and Agency for International Development, a reduction of about one-third from 2017 spending.

“A strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress has already acted once to stop deep cuts to the State Department and Agency for International Development that would have undermined our national security. This year, we will act again,” Royce said in a statement.

Trump also proposed billions of dollars in cuts last year, prompting strong objections from congressional Democrats and many Republicans, who argued that so-called soft power spending on foreign relations and development was an important component of national security.

Congress largely rejected the proposed cuts when it passed an omnibus spending bill for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2017. A spending agreement for the next two years hammered out by lawmakers last week includes money to increase, not cut, diplomacy and development funds.

The White House argues that the funding cuts are needed to help rein in the budget deficit while beefing up military spending.

Under U.S. law, Congress controls the government’s purse strings, and lawmakers rarely enact presidential budgets. While members from both parties generally back high military spending, supporters of foreign aid spending argue that international crises cannot be solved only with force.

Trump’s spending plan on Monday included $716 billion in military spending, the largest military budget since 2011, and a $74 billion increase over last year.

“As I’ve said, diplomacy helps keep America strong and our troops out of combat,” Royce said. “Our country faces urgent threats from North Korea, Iran and terrorists around the world.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees spending, called Trump’s proposed cuts in foreign aid and the State Department “simplistic” and “arbitrary.”

“In the name of ‘efficiency’ this budget slashes funding for the very operations and programs that support U.S. global leadership and influence on which the security of the American people depends,” Leahy said in a statement.

 

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