WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Republican leaders proposed on Monday to spend another $2 billion on U.S. diplomatic security this year, using money unspent in Iraq to provide cash the Obama administration said was necessary to help prevent another Benghazi-style attack.
The proposal, an exception amid general budget cutbacks, is part of the House Republican majority’s plan for funding the government for the rest of fiscal 2013, which ends on September 30. Much of the legislation would continue government spending at the same level of last year - minus cuts mandated by the so-called sequestration that took effect last week.
The additional money would be used to beef up security at embassies and other diplomatic posts around the globe in the wake of the September 11, 2012, attacks on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya and a nearby CIA outpost. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the attacks.
Most of the extra cash would come from funds that the State Department has not spent in Iraq, a House appropriations committee aide said.
After the Benghazi attacks, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Congress to help reallocate $1.4 billion that was no longer needed in Iraq - where the State Department has been scaling back operations after the departure of troops in 2011 - to pay for hardened security at diplomatic facilities elsewhere.
Clinton’s $1.4 billion request was on top of $3.79 billion the administration had already asked Congress to approve for diplomatic security in fiscal 2013, the congressional aide said. If Congress okays this amount, it will be bring the total approved for embassy security this year to $5.2 billion.
The Democratic-majority Senate in February approved the move of $1.1 billion from the State Department’s Iraq accounts to pay for more embassy security. If the proposal by House Republican leaders passes, the House and Senate could then negotiate over a final number.
Clinton told lawmakers in January that the additional $1.4 billion was needed “so that we can get more Marine guards, we can get more diplomatic security guards, we can try to put more money into the maintenance, the upgrades, the construction that’s needed” at diplomatic posts around the world.
Clinton said the State Department wanted $553 million to pay for more Marine security guard detachments at embassies; $130 million for 155 more State Department diplomatic security personnel; and $336 million for facility construction and upgrades.
The money for construction could help build new embassy compounds or finance upgrades at the top 80 highest-threat posts that do not meet current security standards, the congressional aide said.
After the Benghazi attacks, Democrats criticized Republicans for voting to cut embassy security spending during the past two years. Republicans countered that security was not merely a matter of money and that leadership failures contributed to the Benghazi tragedy.
An independent review of the Benghazi attacks blamed the senior leadership for failing to ensure that the security needs of the high-threat post were met. But it also said that Congress must “do its part” to provide the State Department with necessary resources to address security risks.
The House Republican proposal is part of a plan to avoid a government shutdown later this month while keeping automatic spending cuts in place. Accounting for the so-called sequester cuts, it would reduce the full-year discretionary spending levels to $982 billion, compared to $1.043 trillion previously.
Editing by Warren Strobel and Jackie Frank