Republicans and Democrats blast Trump’s cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid as dangerous for national security

By Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress rejected President Donald Trump‘s proposed cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid budgets as dangerous to national security on Wednesday, setting the stage for a budget battle with the White House.

The ranking Republican on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees State Department spending, Hal Rogers, said he was “disappointed” after viewing Trump‘s budget request, which he said slashes the State Department budget by about $11 billion to $40 billion.

Rogers said spending on diplomacy and foreign aid was “a central component of our national security.”

Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who chairs the full Appropriations committee and the subcommittee, also rejected the proposed cuts. “I am astonished that three years into his administration the president still does not appreciate the merits of sustained investments in diplomacy and development,” she said.

In written remarks submitted to the committee, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the proposed budget covered diplomatic efforts in trouble spots in Asia, the Americas, Europe and Latin America.

He said it proposed boosting State Department funding focused on countering China‘s increased aggression in Asia and strengthening systems to target Russia’s growing threats to the United States and Western world.

China is proactively applying its power and exerting its influence in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” Pompeo said, adding: “This budget prioritizes countering Russian malign influence in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia, and further strengthens the Department’s own systems against malign actors.”

Pompeo said resources would also fund efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea on ending its nuclear program and push back against Iran‘s activities in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

“The proposed request will allow us to protect our citizens at home and abroad, advance American prosperity and values, and support our allies and partners overseas,” Pompeo said.

He said the budget also requests new authority to support a democratic transition in Venezuela, including transferring up to $500 million to foreign assistance accounts.

Trump‘s proposal calls for spending more U.S. taxpayer money on the military and a U.S.-Mexico border wall, while overhauling social safety-net programs in a budget plan likely to die in Congress but live on in his 2020 re-election campaign.

Democratic Representative Lois Frankel called Trump‘s budget proposal “embarrassing and dangerous.”

Frankel, like Lowey, sharply criticized an expanded anti-abortion policy outlined by Pompeo on Tuesday, which cuts funding to groups that support abortion. “Your budget and action is devastating to the health of women around the world,” Frankel said.

“Your administration is abortion obsessed,” she said, adding that removing funding for women’s health issues had “devastating effects” for the health of women around the world.

Committee Republicans said they backed the policy. Representative Martha Roby thanked Pompeo for his stance.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Susan Thomas)