* Kerry says "sequestration" would cut $2.6 billion in 2013
* Cuts would undermine aid, military sales and embassy
* Job losses feared from lost arms sales, reduced tourist
By Paul Eckert
WASHINGTON, Feb 14 Automatic government spending
cuts set to take effect next month would undermine U.S.
diplomacy and security policies at a time of turmoil across the
Middle East and Africa, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told
Congress on Thursday.
Across-the-board cuts, known as "sequestration," set to
begin on March 1, would take $2.6 billion out of the budget for
the State Department and USAID, America's development assistance
agency, Kerry said.
"Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability
to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy
and development," he wrote in a letter to Senator Barbara
Mikulski, chairwoman of Senate Committee on Appropriations.
The warning from Kerry, who took over from predecessor
Hillary Clinton 10 days ago, follows similarly stark alerts from
Pentagon chief Leon Panetta and other Obama administration
officials over cuts that will take place unless lawmakers and
President Barack Obama reach an agreement to stop them.
The worst of the planned cuts might not come into force, as
lawmakers try to find ways to avoid severe cost reductions.
Democrats in the Senate on Thursday rallied around a $110
billion tax increase and spending cut plan that would postpone
the sequestration cuts. The proposal is expected to be shot down
by Republicans, but some of its components could be included in
future budget negotiations.
Sequestration would cut $200 million from humanitarian
assistance, more than $400 million for global health funds to
fight AIDS and child deaths, and more than $500 million in
security assistance, Kerry said in his letter, dated Feb. 11 and
made public on Thursday.
The security assistance cuts could include $300 million in
the Foreign Military Financing program and "lead to reductions
in military assistance to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, undermining
our commitment to their security at such a volatile time," wrote
"This cut will be felt at home, resulting in a loss of sales
to U.S. industry and a potential loss of U.S. jobs," he added.
Additional job losses would occur as budget cuts force the
slower processing of visas for foreign tourists and business
visitors, Kerry said.
The cuts would total about $85 billion this year across the
entire U.S. budget. With a deal to avoid them looking less and
less likely, administration officials are rallying to warn of
the pain that will be imposed on various programs.
Kerry also said cuts would impair efforts to beef up
security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, a sensitive issue after
the attack by armed militants on the U.S. mission in the Libyan
city of Benghazi. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three
other Americans were killed in that attack.
Americans living or traveling abroad would also feel the
pinch, Kerry warned, as cuts "constrain our ability to assist
U.S. citizens overseas, often at their darkest times."