Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to defend President Obama’s FY’12 budget request for the State Department and USAID. After opening statements from Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) and Clinton, the committee immediately jumped to a marathon question and answer session—bringing the hearing to a near 4-hour mark. Most of the questions from Republicans and Democrats focused on the revolutions in the Middle East, particularly Libya. Secretary Clinton used this context as a jumping off point to make an eloquent defense of U.S. assistance and development programs and generally how the situation makes it even more important that we use every tool in our national security strategy to affect change.
In her opening statement HFAC Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Administration for not doing more to foster the democracy movements in the Middle East, saying “We have failed to effectively use our resources to help build strong, accountable institutions that protect basic human rights.” Ros-Lehtinen discussed the UN Human Rights Council and called for conditioning U.S. funding: “Just as administration officials talk about smart power and smart sanctions, when it comes to the U.N., we need smart withholding.” She also challenged the Administration to consider its “mis-placed priorities” arguing, “The Administration should not propose massive increases in global health and climate change while cutting key programs like counter-terrorism programs.” After running through some constituent letters that ask “what is the return on our investment?” Ros-Lehtinen closed with a forceful message: “Our funding baseline has to change. The real question is not, is this activity useful? But rather, is this activity so important that it justifies borrowing money to pay for it and further endangering our nation’s economy?”