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Chairman Menendez Opening Statement at Foreign Policy Budget Hearing with Secretary of State Kerry

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at the hearing: “National Security and Foreign Policy Priorities in the FY 2015 International Affairs Budget.”

“Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Washington. I understand you’ve travelled to 44 countries and logged over 855 hours in the air which translates into an incredible 35 days of flying. So, I imagine it feels good to have your feet on the ground in a familiar place like this Committee Room.

“Today we look forward to hearing your priorities for the State Department for the coming year.

“As the situations in Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela  demonstrate – never has the need for American leadership and engagement in the world been greater.

“We understand the limitations and constraints that govern the budgetary environment and that getting our fiscal house in order at home is the wellspring from which our national power flows, but in this complex and rapidly changing global environment, we also know that our national security interests are priority number one and they cannot be jeopardized.

“The $40.3 billion in base discretionary funding for the Department of State and USAID, equal to the 2014 enacted level, provides solid footing after several years of uncertainty for our international efforts.

“And the $5.9 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations activities allows us to continue to address challenges in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Syrian humanitarian crisis and in Afghanistan and the other frontline states.

“We also need to make sure that this budget is structured so that our nation is capable of meeting the new challenges and opportunities of today's world.

“We face many challenging issues, most recently the menacing threat faced by Ukraine: A challenge to its very existence. We can and will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people, who by right will choose their own destiny. 

“In addition to authorizing $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and other assistance to strengthen civil society and security in the region, we’ve also given you tools to respond to Russia in the form of sanctions.  Our message to Putin and his cronies must be robust and swift.

“In my view, President Putin has miscalculated by playing a game of Russian roulette the international community, but we refuse to blink, and will never accept this violation of international law.

“On Syria, as we commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the uprising,  I am pleased that the Administration is prioritizing assistance both in humanitarian aid and support for the Syrian opposition.

“The $1.7 billion request sends an important signal to the world and to the Syrian people of our commitment.

“This leads to a broader point – that we can demonstrate U.S. leadership on humanitarian assistance, but I would like to hear from you, Mr. Secretary, how we are demonstrating and intend to demonstrate leadership in ending this crisis.

“On Afghanistan and Pakistan, let me say that I support the administration's efforts to right-size our investments in the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

“But in this year of transition I was hoping that more of the budget could be shifted into the base budget so that we could begin to normalize the assistance for these Frontline states.

“We should also take special note of the elections held in Afghanistan this weekend. In the face of intimidation by the Taliban, the Afghan people demonstrated their desire to shape the destiny of their own country.

“The election was an historic marker in our engagement in Afghanistan and we are hopeful that the final result will be credible and genuinely reflect the will of the Afghan people.

“Now, on Western Hemisphere Affairs I have to say I am disappointed that the budget does not provide more resources. The 2015 request is a $358 million or 21% decrease from the FY13 budget.  

“I’m incredibly troubled that every other major account in the Western Hemisphere is being cut and that where programs are coming to an end that we are not re-investing those funds in the region.

“I don’t dispute the importance of other priorities laid out in the administration's proposal, but I’m concerned that we lack a comprehensive approach to Latin America, and the necessary resources to back it up.

“In Central America, nations are facing a crisis of criminal violence and major challenges to governance and the rule of law.

“Honduras and El Salvador continue to have the world’s highest murder rates, which undercut economic development in those countries and, in turn, lead to high levels of emigration that directly affect our country.

“And, finally, threats to democracy, freedom of expression and human rights in our hemisphere from Cuba, to Venezuela and Ecuador should be of concern to our country.

“As the volatile situation in Venezuela has shown us, undermining democracy can lead to a political crisis and economic instability that has implications for the entire hemisphere.

“That said, the overall budget sets a strong proposed funding level.

“But along with my concerns about Western Hemisphere issues, I’m also concerned that there are significant reductions in humanitarian assistance and global health accounts.

“There’s a nearly 5 percent cut in Global Health with the largest reductions in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

“Mr. Secretary, again thank you for being here today. I looking forward to hearing views on all of these areas of concern. Welcome back to the Committee.

“With that, let me turn to Senator Corker for his opening comments.”