House Panel Cuts Obama’s Foreign Aid Budget, Targets United Nations Funding

May 10, 2012 - 4:06 AM

UN flags

Flags of member nations flying at United Nations headquarters in New York City. (U.N. Photo by Araujo Pinto)

(CNSNews.com) – Firing a shot over the Obama administration’s bow, a congressional subcommittee has marked up a foreign appropriations bill that lops 12 percent off the administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2013, and applies conditions on funding for the administration’s cherished $770 million “Arab spring” reform initiative.

The bill also provides no funding for the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), despite the administration’s desire to seek a waiver that would allow it to resume funding to the Paris-based agency.

In a move that clashed with its much-touted policy of full engagement with, and funding for, the U.N., the administration was compelled by law to de-fund UNESCO last fall after it became the first U.N. body to admit “Palestine.”

The bill – which the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee approved by voice vote Wednesday – not only denies funding for UNESCO, but it also places conditions on funding to other parts of the U.N. apparatus:

--No funding goes to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) unless the secretary of state certifies that U.S. participation in the Geneva-based body is in the national security interest, and that the council is taking steps to scrap its permanent agenda item focusing on Israel.

The administration has pushed for the item – the HRC’s only country-specific one – to be removed, but without success. The current council includes only 21 free democracies among its 47 members.

--No funding goes to any U.N. body – or may finance a U.S. delegation to such a body – that is presided over by a country whose government has been determined under U.S. law to sponsor terrorism.

Current state-sponsors are Iran, Syria, Cuba and Sudan (and some lawmakers have called for Venezuela’s designation and for North Korea’s return to the blacklist.) These countries, and Iran in particular, periodically take up leadership positions at U.N. agencies, programs or commissions.

--In a far-reaching move, the bill also withholds up to 30 percent of funding made available for the U.N. or any other international organization until those bodies provide financial audits to the U.S. government, and make them accessible online.

The administration’s total FY2013 request for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development was $51.62 billion, roughly $800 million more than FY2012 levels, and included $8.2 billion for so-called “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO) – civilian-led programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The marked-up measure provides $48 billion, including the $8.2 billion for the OCO account.

In its request, the administration asked for $770 million for a new fund to promote reforms in 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The bill states that funds that are made available to promote democracy “shall also be made available to support freedom of religion, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Among the countries targeted in the administration’s planned initiative are several where religious minorities face harassment and discrimination, including Iran, Egypt and the Palestinian territories.

“This is a tough, effective national security bill that continues to cut spending, reform our aid programs, and demand accountability from our partners and allies,” subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said in a statement.

“This bill reflects principled funding decisions that give the United States the flexibility to respond to a rapidly changing world while making sure our foreign aid is not a blank check for foreign governments who do not support our national security priorities.”

Although it moved through the subcommittee with bipartisan support, the bill is expected to meet Democratic resistance in the wider House, in the Democratic-controlled Senate – and from the administration.

‘Safeguarding respect for life’

If enacted, the bill would also set restrictions on four specific funding requests:

Funding for Afghanistan is conditioned on security for civilian aid workers, and submission by the administration of a transition plan that includes information about security for U.S. facilities in the country following the troop withdrawal

Economic and security assistance for Pakistan is linked to Islamabad’s counterterror cooperation – not just with regard to al-Qaeda and the Taliban but also the Haqqani network and Laskhar e-Toiba – as well as non-interference by the military or intelligence in Pakistan’s political or judicial processes.

In the case of Egypt, aid is conditioned on respect for the due process of law as well as Egypt’s honoring of its peace treaty with Israel.

And aid to the Palestinian Authority will be cut if it obtains membership of the U.N. or any U.N. agency, outside of an agreement negotiated between the P.A. and Israel.

The bill includes policy positions designed, in the words of a subcommittee statement, to “safeguard the respect for life around the globe.”

They include reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions around the world (The regulation was instituted by President Reagan in 1984, reversed by President Clinton in 1993, revived by President Bush in 2001, and rescinded by President Obama in 2009.)

It also prohibits funding for the U.N. Population Fund, which is unpopular with conservatives because of its activities in China, where coercive population limitation policies are enforced.