Mikulski Remarks at Full Committee Markup of SFOPS Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the Full Committee markup of the fiscal year 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bill.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“I appreciate the work done by Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Leahy on the State and Foreign Operations bill.  They did a good job with the spartan sequester level resources available, but it is $4.9 billion less than the President’s request.
“The SFOPS bill provides for America’s public diplomacy and is a key tool for national security.   So much important work is done through this bill.  It gives assistance to our treasured allies Israel and Jordan, keeps our embassies safe, helps our Central American neighbors, fights despicable human trafficking and protects vulnerable populations.
“America does not stand alone in the world.  To protect our national interests we rely on treasured allies.  I am glad this bill remains steadfast in our support of Israel with $3.1 billion in security assistance to defend its very right to exist and $10 million for refugee resettlement.
“The bill also helps Jordan deal with the more than 600,000 refugees that put pressure on every service, including education, security and even water.  The $1.175 billion for Jordan includes money for a down payment for new water projects.
“This bill shows that national security is not just in the Department of Defense.  We need our State Department and dedicated Foreign Service Officers to prevent and end conflict around the world.  The bill provides critical funding for their work and the full request for embassy security to ensure the safety of all the people who work in our embassies and diplomatic posts.
“I am glad we’ve reversed the cuts to embassy security proposed by House Republicans in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.  So many men and women in our diplomatic corps risk their lives in the line of duty.  They represent our country’s values and interests, and they deserve our support.
“Last summer, we saw the crisis of children arriving at our border, but the crisis was not created at the border, it was in their home countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, where corruption and organized crime gangs rule with violence, trafficking and abuse. 
“More than 1.5 million youth in those countries will be unemployed and seeking jobs in the next 18 months.  They face a stark choice: join violent gangs or make the harrowing journey to seek opportunities in the U.S. and leave behind countries marred by drug cartels, violent gangs, corruption and broken justice systems.
“I commend Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Leahy for the $675 million included in the bill for the Central America Alliance for Prosperity Initiative to help rebuild these communities, fight violence and drugs and strengthen local institutions, so young people can find jobs at home.   This isn’t a blank check – Central American nations will need to show progress toward reforms and rooting out corruption.
“The SFOPS bill also supports vulnerable populations, saving lives and promoting democracy.  This bill helps non-governmental organizations (NGOs) show the best of America around the globe, from tackling malaria to fighting vile human trafficking, they are the spirit of America – our spirit of extending beyond our shores and reaching out to help others.  I am so proud of the work these NGOs and their devotion to humanitarian assistance.  Maryland is home to many NGOs including World Relief and Catholic Charities.
“Senators Graham and Leahy have done a good job with a tight allocation, but we need more resources to protect U.S. interests around the world, because despite their best efforts, the bill slashes funding both parties have strongly supported for years.  Regrettably, by providing sequester relief only for Defense, the Republican budget leaves key security programs without necessary resources.  This is why I will support the Leahy amendment, which restores $4.6 billion for critically important international diplomacy, development and national security. 
“There are 60 million refugees and internally displaced people today – the most in recent history.  Men, women and children are fleeing horrific violence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan.  The bill cuts $415 million from the fiscal year 2015 funding level for refugees.  The Leahy amendment restores the life-saving funding which helps to provide food, water, medicine and shelter.  Taking care of refugees is a humanitarian imperative, global security issue and matter of caring for the millions who have lost everything.
“While, I’m glad there is money in the bill to address the crises in Central America, we should do more.  Senator Leahy’s amendment adds $264 million to these funds for social and economic development and justice reform to address the poverty, violence and fear that sent tens of thousands of children marching north last summer.
“The bill also funds global health programs, but falls short where it could have the most life-saving impact by cutting the request by $55 million for maternal and child health, including $35 million for children’s vaccines – the Leahy amendment restores these funds.  Some vaccines cost just a few pennies per dosage, but mean the difference between life and death for a child under the age of five.
“The bill continues the longstanding prohibition on funding abortion, but it also cuts key women’s health funds.  Funding for voluntary family planning and reproductive health programs that reduce the incidence of abortion is $151 million below the request, so Senator Shaheen will offer an amendment – that I will support – to restore those funds.
“We are not a country in decline.  We are not a country that shirks its responsibilities.  We are not a country that cedes the playing field to others who don’t share our values.  But the bill is written with an allocation that is billions of dollars less than what this country needs to exert the global leadership that everyone in this room expects.
“We need a new budget deal that ends sequester for defense and non-defense without gimmicks, and we need it soon, so we can fulfill those responsibilities and maintain U.S. leadership and exceptionalism.  We can’t pretend that a Presidential veto will magically solve the budget problems keeping us from moving these bills.  A veto just gets us back to the point where we are now.
“I want to speed up the process, but to do so, Congress needs to buckle down and find a way to end sequester with a new, bipartisan budget deal in the spirit of Murray-Ryan.  Until then, Members on both sides will blame the other side for the delay.  Meanwhile, nothing will be accomplished and we will inch closer and closer to crisis.”