Cummings to GOP: Restore funds to embassy security

The top Democrat on the House Oversight panel on Wednesday called for Republicans to join him in restoring funds after deep cuts to embassy security by the GOP-led House over the past two years.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) made the request in his opening statement at a hearing on security deficiencies that could have helped to prevent the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Democrats are hoping to turn the tables on Republicans by pointing out that they have slashed funding for those sorts of efforts.

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“The chairman has said that our committee will examine not only the Libya attack, but security at our posts across the Middle East. Mr. Chairman, I fully support this effort,” Cummings said, according to his prepared remarks. “And if this is our goal, we have to examine the funding.

“The fact is that, since 2011, the House has cut embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars below the amounts requested by the President. The Senate restored some of these funds, but the final amounts were still far below the Administration’s requests. And they were far below the levels we enacted in 2010.”

According to a Democratic staff memo obtained by The Hill, the House cut the two State Department accounts for “Worldwide Security Protection” and “Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance” by a total of $459 million in 2011 and 2012 below the Obama administration's funding request. The Democrat-controlled Senate was able to reinstate $88.25 million — still $370.7 million lower than what the administration wanted.

Republicans are crying foul.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said more Democrats than Republicans — including Cummings — voted for those bills and called them a “bipartisan” effort. Republicans pointed to a July 2012 report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that found $200 million in waste to justify the cuts.

And Republicans on the committee say that the 16-person Site Security Team that the State Department decided not to keep in the country past August was funded through the Department of Defense budget, not State, and "had nothing to do with State Department budgetary shortfalls or concerns."

Democrats have also sought to tie Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to embassy security cuts. They argue the budget blueprint put forward by his running mate, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would have cut non-defense discretionary funding by 19 percent by 2014 — which translates to about $300 million in cuts for “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance.”