Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to brief lawmakers about diplomatic security challenges and the Middle East today, but it's obvious those needs conflict with the budget austerity that Congress has embraced.
Even as Senators raise concerns about embassy security funding and personnel after the recent rash of assaults against U.S. outposts, Congress has proposed spending reductions for Worldwide Security Protection, an umbrella account within the State Department budget that funds efforts to keep diplomats safe.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, said Wednesday that security should be beefed up, but he did not signal a push for more money.
"If I were president of the United States, I would send a unequivocal statement to the people in the region: If you attack our interests, there will be consequences," Graham said. "I would reinforce our embassies and our consulates, and I would get deeply involved with each nation to try to find a way to maintain a foothold on progress."
In the stand-alone State Department spending bills for the most recent and the current fiscal years, the Senate did try to fund the diplomatic security accounts at higher levels than the House - a result of the difference between each chambers' adopted spending levels.
Specifically, Senators proposed providing a total of $245 million more than the $2.96 billion offered by their House counterparts.
In a sign of the budget environment, however, even the Senate total - about $3.21 billion for the two years - fell short of the $3.44 billion the White House requested.
In the short term, none of those cuts are imminent because the government will be operating on a continuing resolution for the next six months, maintaining current levels. Separately, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that automatic budget cuts required by sequestration would trim the budget for embassy security and infrastructure by $129 million in 2013. Those automatic cuts are scheduled to take effect at the end of the year.
A House Republican aide stressed that House appropriators in both parties and both chambers are committed to providing the resources the State Department says it needs to protect American diplomats. However, the aide points out that security on the ground also must be negotiated with the host country.
Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking member on the corresponding House Appropriations subcommittee, has been concerned about the reductions in State Department security funding.
"Security is paramount not only to the men and women serving our nation abroad, but also for the thousands of American citizens traveling or working overseas," the New York Democrat said in a statement to Roll Call. "Short-changing security at U.S. embassies and missions would be short-sighted and penny-wise but pound-foolish."
Since the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, there has been a massive effort to build new embassies and refurbish existing properties that provide additional protection against attacks.