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Uproar over threatened cuts to US State Department budget

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Democrats and Republicans on Friday banded together to demand that the administration of US President Donald Trump refrain from cutting US$4 billion from the State Department and development aid budget.

[WASHINGTON] Democrats and Republicans on Friday banded together to demand that the administration of US President Donald Trump refrain from cutting US$4 billion from the State Department and development aid budget.

The rare bipartisan pitch came from the leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees.

"These funds, which were appropriated by Congress and signed into law by the President following lengthy, bipartisan negotiations, are essential to promoting US global leadership and protecting the security of the American people," they said in a letter.

"We urge you to make them available for obligation without further delay."

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The firestorm began with a letter from the White House's Office of Management and Budget to the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

It announced a freeze of all budget allocations for the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, for several programmes - from peacekeeping to health initiatives to the fight against drug trafficking.

The administration has asked for a detailed review of how the funds are to be spent - leaving open the possibility that the disbursements could simply be cancelled.

Such a move "would cancel over US$4 billion in funding vital for American foreign policy", the lawmakers said.

"Slashing crucial diplomacy and development programming would be detrimental to our national security while also undermining Congress's intended use for these funds," they added.

The letter came from Democratic senator Bob Menendez, Republican senator James Risch, Democratic congressman Eliot Engel and Republican congressman Mike McCaul.

"It would be inappropriate for any administration, under any circumstance, to attempt to override Congress's most fundamental power," they warned.

"Such action would be precedent-setting and a direct affront to the separation of powers principle upon which our nation was built."

Since taking office in January 2017, Mr Trump has repeatedly tried to slash the budget for the State Department and development aid to foreign countries, while allowing the Pentagon's budget to grow.

Lawmakers have stood firm against such moves so far, but the administration was nevertheless able to freeze certain aid programs for the Palestinians and for Central American countries.

Democrats say the current funds in limbo were earmarked for the fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as US$140 million for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and US$150 million for human rights campaigns.

AFP