Rep. Van Hollen: State Department Needs Funds

Budget leader says State Department aid funding key for Afghanistan.

House Budget Committee Ranking Member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.,  answers reporters' questions during a weekly news conference at the Capitol February 14, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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As Congress debates budget cuts and the U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the war in Afghanistan, the State Department needs funds to support quality of life and stability in that nation to repel terrorism, said House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

There is bipartisan support on funding defense and intelligence efforts, but there is "less success" on funding some "important tools of foreign policy" including development assistance and economic assistance, Van Hollen said on Thursday during an event at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

"The State Department budget is puny compared with the defense budget," Van Hollen said. "If you look at the House Republican budget over a 10-year period it would dramatically cut the category for those kinds of State Department programs."

[READ: U.S. Considers Pushing Karzai Aside for Drawdown Deal]

Budget debates reached a fever pitch in October, leading to the first government shutdown in 17 years. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., are expected to unveil a budget compromise on Dec. 14 to keep the government funded in 2014. There is more bipartisan support in the Senate for "a robust State Department budget," Van Hollen said, highlighting the support of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. In the House, Van Hollen said Democrats are having difficulty negotiating for State Department funding with fiscally conservative tea party Republicans.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Afghanistan have agreed on a Bilateral Security Agreement, regarding the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2014 and remaining U.S. troop numbers. As part of the withdrawal the U.S. needs to avoid the "big mistake" of not continuing to offer relief funding to Afghanistan, Van Hollen explained, which is what happened in 1989, when the Soviets withdrew from war in that country and poverty there contributed to Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for radical Islamic terrorists. The U.S. covertly funded Afghan guerillas to fight the Soviets during that war.

"I think we did create a vacuum there that did lead to al Qaeda being able to exploit that vacuum," Van Hollen said. "I think it's important that we maintain a presence there. If we are going to maintain a presence there we have to provide the resources necessary."

[ALSO: U.S., Afghanistan Agree on Terms for Withdrawal]

The challenge to securing foreign policy funds, Van Hollen told U.S. News & World Report, is determining what the appropriate level of funds are and making sure those funds are spent wisely, noting that some facilities built with development aid are no longer maintained.

"There are plenty of examples in Iraq and Afghanistan of monies spent that have not achieved their purpose," Van Hollen explained.

Funding local organizations to become self-sufficient in foreign countries through the U.S. Agency for International Development is an example of how development aid can be both efficient and successful, Van Hollen said.

"There are cases when you have U.S. organizations going in and doing good work, but when they leave they also take with them the expertise," Van Hollen said. "One of the things we need to do is build indigenous expertise in a lot of these countries."

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