Spending proposal excludes Republicans' cuts to foreign aid

The 2011 government spending plan excludes billions in cuts to diplomatic programs previously approved by the House, but a senior Democratic senator says he sees big cuts on the horizon.

A version of a continuing resolution passed in February (H.R. 1) by the House would have trimmed 2010 funding levels for the State Department and foreign affairs programs by $3.8 billion. But the compromise funding bill agreed to late Friday evening includes only a cut of around $500 million, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee statement.

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"H.R. 1 would have ... caused serious harm to U.S. embassy and consular operations which millions of Americans who live, work and study abroad depend on every day, and to programs that directly protect U.S. national security and other important diplomatic and economic interests, and which provide life-saving aid to victims of disease, war and natural disasters," the Senate panel said in a statement issued Tuesday.

"At the H.R. 1 level, total funding for foreign operations for the world’s leading superpower would have fallen below a mere 1 percent of the federal budget," the panel noted, "while the CR agreement will require a spending freeze for many diplomatic operations and foreign assistance programs at [2010] levels or below, unlike H.R. 1, it provides sufficient funds to enable the United States to continue to exert the global leadership the American people expect."

Still, "there will be cutbacks, I assume," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, said Tuesday. As part of those cuts during the 2012 budget cycle, "some programs will be canceled," he added during a subcommittee hearing.

Some lawmakers, particularly in the House, argue that the billions of dollars spent on global aid should be targeted for reductions as Congress looks to bring down the deficit.

House Republicans are expected to lead the way on foreign-aid cuts, backed by some GOP senators.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is a top advocate for such reductions. “The American people are demanding that we carefully scrutinize our government spending, both domestic and foreign, both large and small,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a recent statement.

Foreign aid advocates including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) say they will argue the costs of pulling U.S. aid in places such as Egypt outweigh the potential ramifications of not spending federal funds there. Kerry is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.