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Deep cuts in State Department budget would meet with resistance

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Drastic cuts to the U.S. foreign aid budget proposed by the Trump administration is likely to produce strong resistance in Congress and in the foreign policy community.

Several key Republicans, as well as a large contingent of retired military officers, already have spoken out against curtailing the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, saying the loss of so-called soft power would hurt U.S. security.

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump did not specify how much he wants to cut the budget for diplomacy and foreign aid.

But aides have said he hopes to vastly expand military spending and pay for it by cutting budgets for other federal departments and programs.

"To those allies who wonder what kind of friend America will be, look no further than the heroes who wear our uniform," Trump said Tuesday night.

"Our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world.  It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe."

Foreign aid only makes up about 1% of the overall budget, so eliminating it would not account for much money.

"Foreign Aid is not charity," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a tweet. "We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1% of budget & critical to our national security."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters before Trump's address that deep slashes to spending for diplomacy and foreign aid would not win congressional approval.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said such deep cuts would be "dead on arrival."

A group of 121 retired army generals and naval admirals on Monday released a letter protesting reports of targeted cuts.

They cited Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, who as commander of the U.S. Central Command, said, "If you don't fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition."

The State Department budget -- including foreign aid programs, embassies, USAID and other development programs - comes to about $50 billion a year. That compares with more than $600 billion a year for the Pentagon.

It pays for efforts including the State Department's role in counter-terrorism, the fight against pandemics like Ebola, and stopping human trafficking.

"It's a very small budget," said Daniel Runde, a Republican expert on development who heads the Project on Prosperity and Development at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"There is an opportunity for a top-to-bottom review of how this money is spent," Runde said, "But soft power is part of our national power. These are the condo fees that you have to pay to be a global superpower."

Another tricky issue is that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid is Israel. Reducing support would hurt a key ally with whom Trump has vowed to forge even stronger ties.

Trump reiterated Tuesday night that his government would maintain an unbreakable bond with Israel.

State Department programs that may be vulnerable include those promoting equality for women, gays and lesbians overseas, and United Nations peacekeeping operations.

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