House appropriators on Tuesday advanced the $52 billion fiscal 2017 foreign aid spending bill, as amended, which includes Republican policy riders that would block funding for a U.N. climate change fund and limit financial assistance for family planning programs.
The appropriations measure was advanced by a voice vote after Republicans defeated a number of Democratic amendments to provide funding for the U.N. Green Climate Fund and slightly increase levels of funding for bilateral and multilateral assistance for family planning activities.
The House diplomacy and development bill contains roughly $100 million less than its Senate counterpart (S 3117), which also differs in containing $500 million for the Green Climate Fund as well as funding for bilateral and multilateral family planning programs. In both cases, the Senate is closer to the request by the Obama administration.
The House panel's ranking Democrat, Nita M. Lowey of New York, criticized Republicans for placing a cap of $394 million on funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to spend on resettling refugees in the United States.
If the language becomes law, it could hinder Secretary of State John Kerry’s stated goal of resettling 100,000 global refugees in the country in fiscal 2017, a 15,000 increase from the 85,000 people planned for admittance in the current cycle.
The world is facing its biggest ever refugee crisis, surpassing levels seen at the end of World War II with millions fleeing terrorist attacks and civil war in Syria and Iraq and many thousands more trying to escape violence and poverty in Central America, South Asia and Africa.
“The cap on our resettlement program would close the door to those fleeing horrific persecution,” Lowey said. “Capping the refugee resettlement program will only disqualify refugees from protection based on their nationality or religion. The Refugee Admissions Program must stay true to its mandate to resettle the most vulnerable individuals from all religions, ethnicities and backgrounds.”
Rep. Tom Rooney, chairman of the Intelligence Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, spoke against an unsuccessful amendment from Lowey that would increase by $173 million funding available for refugee resettlement.
“My concern has been and remains to be our ability to understand the integrity of refugee admission applications,” the Florida Republican said. “This cap on funding is the only way to limit the administration’s proposed increases in admissions, which I cannot support until there is similar resources dedicated to ensuring we fully screen applicants who may pose a risk to this country.”
Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan made an impassioned plea to appropriators to adopt his amendment that would provide at least $585 million for bilateral reproductive health activities and $37.5 million to the U.N. Population Fund — levels identical to what is in the Senate foreign aid bill.
Ryan said his amendment, which was rejected, would require $2.5 million be used by the United Nations to provide contraceptives to people living in Zika-affected countries.
“We’re looking at 900,000 infections expected by women of reproductive age,” he said. “This bill reduces abortions. My amendment is only about protecting family planning programs.”
Rep. Kay Granger, cardinal of the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, opposed the amendment, arguing that it would have to be offset by cuts to health programs that support maternal and child well-being as well as combat the spread of TB and malaria.
The panel adopted a bipartisan amendment from Granger and Lowey that would make a number of language changes to the accompanying bill report. Appropriators also adopted a measure from Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent that would reduce the Export-Import Bank’s quorum requirement from three board members to two members until the end of fiscal 2019.