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Ros-Lehtinen: My mission is to cut the State and foreign aid budgets

Foreign Policy
Ros-Lehtinen: My mission is to cut the State and foreign aid budgets
By Josh Rogin
December 8, 2010

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, isn't wasting any time in pressing for deep cuts to the State Department and U.S. foreign operations around the world.

Ros-Lehtinen, in a statement today laying out her agenda, also criticized the Obama administration's decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, called for the government to use its contributions to international organizations as leverage to force changes at the United Nations, and advocated for stronger action against "rogue states."

Her primary mission, though? Finding savings in the budgets that her committee will be authorizing.

"In November, the voters made it clear that if we don't take the correct approach to policy by keeping our economy foremost in our decisions, they're going to ship us all out," she said. "Republicans got the message and are committed to making ‘the people's House' work for the people again.  As Chairman of this Committee, I will work to restore fiscal discipline to foreign affairs, reform troubled programs and organizations, exercise vigorous oversight to identify waste, fraud, and abuse, and counter the threats posed to our nation by rogue states and violent extremists."

Ros-Lehtinen doesn't actually dole out the funds for the State Department and the foreign operations budgets. That's the job of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee. But as we've reported, the likely incoming chairwoman of that panel, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) is of a similar mind as Ros-Lehtinen.

The cuts could severely complicate the Obama administration's mission to elevate both diplomacy and development as instruments of national power, as laid out in the National Security Strategy. It could also cause difficulties for the State Department's plan to take over more responsibility in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and rebuild the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)..

The State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the first of its kind, is due out next week. State Department Policy Planning chief Anne Marie-Slaughter has been briefing the bureaus at State on the changes this week, as final edits are completed.

Slaughter will leave Washington and return to Princeton to resume her position as dean of the Woodrow Wilson school later this month. The other main leader of the QDDR, former Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, left State to take over OMB, where he is beyond busy preparing the fiscal 2012 budget and leading the WikiLeaks government-wide information security review.

That leaves the implementation of the QDDR to people like Lew's replacement, Thomas Nides, and 37-year-old USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

Shah and Nides will have their work cut out for them when they go up against the new, GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Ros-Lehtinen's letter declares:

   "I have identified and will propose a number of cuts to the State Department and Foreign Aid budgets. There is much fat in these budgets, which makes some cuts obvious. Others will be more difficult but necessary to improve the efficiency of U.S. efforts and accomplish more with less. We must shift our foreign aid focus from failed strategies rooted in an archaic post-WWII approach that, in some instances, perpetuates corrupt governments, to one that reflects current realities and challenges and empowers grassroots and civil society."

What exactly that will mean remains to be seen. But Ros-Lehtinen will lead a panel that, while trying to cut foreign aid funding, will likely also press the administration to implement Iran sanctions strictly and harshly. She will also scuttle the House drive to lift sanctions on Cuba and resist any engagement with North Korea.

"My worldview is clear: isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies," she said. "I support strong sanctions and other penalties against those who aid violent extremists, brutalize their own people, and have time and time again rejected calls to behave as responsible nations. Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball."

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