At today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Ron Paul asked Hillary Clinton how she can justify spending $1 billion to build a “fortress” in London while Americans are hurting economically.
Location: House Foreign Affairs Committee
Ron Paul: Welcome, Madam Secretary. I have a question about the cost of our foreign operations. We are now in the midst of a financial crisis. We have a heavy burden of debt, we know what debt can do. Greece is experiencing that type of problem and we could reach that problem I believe if we continue to do what we’re doing.
The international affairs budget ten years ago was $23 billion, now it’s $54 billion, that’s a tremendous increase and that’s not all from this administration obviously. But during that same period of time, the real wages of most American workers have gone down and the unemployment rate now according to the labor department, the underemployment is 20% so this is nothing to ignore and it is related to all our spending.
And a lot of Americans can’t justify the amount of money we’re spending both in the war effort and in our affairs around the world. And quite frankly, there’s some that don’t feel a lot safer for it. But there’s a human price that we’re paying. We’ve lost over 5,000 Americans in fighting these wars, over 1,000 now in Afghanistan alone. There are hundreds of thousands of casualties, veterans coming back with both physical and mental problems. They are going to be needing care for many, many years.
The cost of all this is probably in the last 10 years, could easily be $1.5 trillion dollars. Also, there’s the refugee problem. We have hundreds of thousands of refugees still experiencing difficulties both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Just this very last month, 24,000 refugees were added into Afghanistan. Yesterday, we had a report from the United Nations that there were 346 children killed in Afghanistan so the violence affects everybody and that truly is a cost.
But the more specific question I have for you is one of priorities. Obviously here in Congress everybody justifies their spending, the people here justify their domestic spending and people justify the overseas spending and the war spending, and they worry about not having enough bipartisanship. I worry about too much because they get together and they enjoy spending both places and nobody cares about the deficit.
I want to specifically ask you about the embassy in London because people could see that and they can feel it. We built an embassy in Baghdad that cost close to a billion dollars. We built one in Kabul that cost almost a billion dollars and there’s always cost overruns and then the maintenance is very, very expensive. I think the American people have a hard time understanding what we’re doing in London.
Assume for a minute that you could come to my district and talk to some of my unemployed people and explain to them why it’s in their interest for the American people to spend a billion dollars building a fortress in London when they are falling through the cracks and their wages have gone down, the ones that have work. See if you can relate to them and explain to them the importances… in a way, you’d have to say to them that that billion dollars will have to be more debt, because where are you going to save it? Could you explain that to these unemployed people?
Hillary Clinton: Well Congressman, with respect to the embassy, we are selling 11 sites that we currently rent at very high cost in London to consolidate in one building, and therefore the money that we gain from the sale of these buildings will be used to fund the embassy, so we’re not asking for additional or new money. And the reason we need a platform like that embassy in London is because we do so much work in every department of our government through London. It’s not just our diplomats but obviously every other part of the American government is represented there.
So I believe I can make the case that we’re not asking for new money on that, but I take very seriously your larger point, Congressman. It breaks my heart that ten years ago we had a balanced budget, that we were on the way of paying down the debt of the United States of America. I served on the Budget Committee in the Senate and I remember as vividly as it were yesterday, when we had a hearing in which Alan Greenspan came and justified increasing spending and cutting taxes saying that we really didn’t need to pay down the debt. Outrageous, in my view.
Ron Paul: Excuse me, I’d like to interrupt quickly to ask you, is there any place in your budget that you could cut anything significant?
Hillary Clinton: We are cutting. A part of our problem is that we are now assuming so many of the post-conflict responsibilities and that is the bulk of our increase, Congressman.