Mar 22, 2023
Blinken Cites Russia Threat, China Challenge in Budget Hearing
(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators Wednesday that the State Department needs its full budget request to tackle “the immediate, acute threat posed by Russia’s autocracy and aggression” and “the long-term challenge from the People’s Republic of China.”
But senators said the 11% budget increase sought for the department and the US Agency for International Development will be a tough sell, especially in the Republican-led House.
“I don’t think the market will bear that” in the House, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Blinken, suggesting separate, direct funding for efforts aimed at restraining China.
The State Department is seeking about $63 billion in fiscal year 2024, less than 10% of the Pentagon’s request for $842 billion.
Blinken’s appearance before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee opened the top US diplomat’s round of appearances before lawmakers to defend Biden administration policies and proposed spending on international affairs for the year that begins Oct. 1.
“This budget will sustain our security, economic, energy, and humanitarian support for Ukraine to ensure that President Putin’s war remains a strategic failure,” Blinken said.
The department’s budget request includes an 18% funding increase for the Indo-Pacific region, a key element of its approach to China.
Blinken said the budget contains “proposals for new innovative investments to out-compete China – including by enhancing our presence in the region, and ensuring that we and our fellow democracies have to offer, including maritime security, disease surveillance, clean energy infrastructure, digital technology, is more attractive than any alternative.”
Graham pressed Blinken to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, as Congress has urged. A year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Graham said, “let’s do something.”
But Blinken held to the State Department’s position that such a label would have “some unintended consequences.” US officials have argued that current sanctions already achieve the same result and a designation could block humanitarian transactions with Russia.
Blinken said retrospective reports on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2020 will be made available to Congress “within the next few weeks.”
But House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, has said his panel will issue a subpoena unless Blinken produces requested “documents and information concerning the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan” — including an internal dissent report — before testifying to that committee on Thursday.
At an afternoon hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was repeatedly interrupted by antiwar protesters in the hearing room, the panel’s top Republican sharply criticized the Biden administration’s refusal to provide fighter jets to Ukraine on the argument that doing so would be unnecessarily provocative to Russia.
“The administration needs to stop its dithering and follow the lead of allies like Poland and send the F-16s,” Jim Risch of Idaho told Blinken. The secretary didn’t respond.
Risch also ridiculed as inadequate Taiwan’s share of a $16 million fund for foreign military financing in the region, saying that “doesn’t even pay for carfare over there.” Blinken responded by citing $1 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan since the start of the Biden administration.
(Updates with second Senate hearing starting in 13th paragraph)
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