May 08, 2019

Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on USAID Budget Request

“Development and humanitarian relief investments through USAID are not charity—these programs and these funds advance U.S. national security while helping to lift up the worlds most impoverished and build resilient and prosperous communities that in turn promote global stability.”

 

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following remarks at a hearing examining the Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which featured testimony from USAID Administrator Mark Green:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Administrator Green, for your service and for appearing before the Committee this morning.

Immense challenges are growing in complexity across the world, but in the face of human suffering created by both natural and manmade disasters, it is baffling and disappointing to receive—for the third year in a row—a proposal for draconian cuts to our foreign aid budget from previously appropriated levels.  It is hard to understand how your Agency would effectively operate with the President’s budget request.

USAID can and should be playing a critical role.

I applaud your commitment to the people of Venezuela, where an entrenched dictatorship has led to state collapse, the spread of violent crime, a humanitarian crisis, and a massive refugee crisis that is undermining regional economic growth and stability.

This should be the model not the exception. Across Africa, the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon has taken that country to the brink of civil war, the Russian government has established a foothold in the Central African Republic, and before Mozambique could begin to recover from hurricane Idai, hurricane Kenneth struck. 

In Syria, without sustained investment into development we have no hope of truly defeating ISIS. In Afghanistan, what message would it send – as we are negotiating a peace deal (and one about which Members of Congress have been kept in the dark)- to cut the U.S. Mission in half? 

I know you know this, but it seems to bear repeating at the outset:  Development and humanitarian relief investments through USAID are not charity—these programs and these funds advance U.S. national security while helping to lift up the worlds most impoverished and build resilient and prosperous communities that in turn promote global stability. Which is why perhaps the President’s March 29th announcement to end all foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is again the most illogical we’ve seen.

Over the last two years, the Administration has indeed touted the effectiveness of our Central America programs that address the driving factors of migration—programs to promote economic development, the rule of law, and that help confront drug traffickers wreaking violence throughout their communities.

Yet, the President has requested fewer overall resources and seems to be trying to withhold, reprogram, and claw back unobligated and unexpended funds from both current and prior fiscal years. It is as if the President is deliberately exacerbating the crisis.

These kinds of cuts in U.S. presence and investment work directly against our interests including by ceding ground to our adversaries.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the advances China is making with its ambitious One Belt, One Road strategy that exploits host nations while entrenching its economic and political reach.

Last year, you announced your ‘Clear Choice’ initiative to counter China’s growing development influence around the world—something I’ve been looking forward to. So far, I’ve seen the Administration offer nothing meaningful as an alternative to Chinese investment in Africa, Latin America or elsewhere beyond rhetoric.  Cutting the budget for international development by more than 40% is certainly an alternative, but not one that will achieve the outcomes we desire. In fact, I would submit that the Administration is providing a ‘clear choice’: turn to China for foreign investment.

Fortunately for American interests, Congress has twice rejected the President’s budget and programs proposals, and I expect will again.

Administrator Green, you are a skilled former ambassador and legislator. You know the value of U.S. international development and promoting democracy in U.S. foreign policy. Your passion for U.S. leadership in delivering humanitarian and disaster assistance evident.

But the Administration continues to propose cutting USAID’s budget. As the NSC and OMB continue this troubling ‘Foreign Assistance Review’ that seems nothing more than an effort to slow-walk appropriated funds, as the F Bureau systematically delays approving spend plans,

So from where I sit, the Congress must be more effective in holding the administration accountable for its foreign policy shortcomings, and reminding the American people about the importance of ensuring core American values like democracy, governance, and human rights remain essential components of U.S. foreign policy.

It is these fundamental values, along with America’s unparalleled strengths—a military second to none; a vital economy driven by innovation and technological ingenuity; a reservoir of goodwill with our allies and partners—that provide us the opportunity to define a new role and a new grand strategy on the global stage for the twenty-first century. 

I look forward to today’s hearing and hope that we can work together to repair and protect the critical work of your Agency.”

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