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GOP Foreign Affairs Cuts Leave House Democrats Irate

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) |

WASHINGTON -- Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee left for their weekend recess Friday still fuming over a two-day mark-up session that saw Republican lawmakers push through major roadblocks to the State Department's annual budget.

Over two long days of committee hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, Republican lawmakers inserted several politically charged amendments to the State Department's budget authorization bill, which passed the committee on a party line vote.

Among the controversial additions to the bill:

  • a blanket ban on aid to several Latin American nations;
  • a re-institution and strengthening of the so-called "gag rule," or "Mexico City policy," which prohibits aid to any organization that promotes or provides abortions;
  • a ban on aid to any nation that votes with the U.S. less than half the time at the United Nations; and
  • a full defunding of America's participation in the Organization of American States (OAS).

"We had a catharsis session for people who are so angry about so many things, and unable to make a connection between what their anger is about and what their amendment meant," said an audibly frustrated Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking member, on Friday.

"Did you know the most important issue for America is how to get decontaminated from the only organization in the Western hemisphere that all countries except Cuba participates in -- the one organization that requires you to be a democratic country?" he added, sarcastically, referring to the OAS amendment.

The amendments -- and the fact that the Senate is busy working up its own version of a State budget authorization -- make it very unlikely that this version of the bill will make it out of the House.

"It's a one-house bill with a little collateral damage," Berman said. "Because not everybody in the world knows it's a one-house bill, and it gets into their papers, and we just fan the flames of antipathy that are a main danger to our safety."

The two days of markup were unusually rancorous, with congressmen across the aisle shooting insults at one another and introducing intentionally provocative amendments.

At one point, frustrated over a Republican proposal that would prohibit funds from the bill being "made available to" a long list of countries, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) introduced a secondary amendment that replaced the list with the word "anyone."

"It was tongue-in-cheek amendment, but it hit the nerve center," Ackerman said. "It just pointed out the ridiculousness of their position."

He later withdrew it, but not before Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) charged Ackerman with behaving in a "silly" manner, and he responded by calling her "snotty" and "dismissive."

"It wasn't just that the place was a zoo, it was a zoo in which the baboons took over," Ackerman said over the breakdown in decorum.

"This is a very sad moment," Ackerman continued. "It doesn't matter that the bill is going nowhere. [The Republicans] take a lot of positions like this, and it's become a belief system with them. That's very scary. With a few of them it's political posturing, but more of them than not really believe this stuff."

Brad Goehner, a spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen, responded by emphatically pointing out that a large majority of the amendments offered were introduced by Democrats.

He also pointed to the closing remarks of Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who acknowledged "a lot of contention" over the course of the hearing, and thanked the chairwoman for her fair conduct.

"I made a few mistakes and I apologize," Ros-Lehtinen responded.

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