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Trump budget on the menu as US senators lunch with Tillerson

By Patricia Zengerle

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the administration's proposed budget, the panel's chairman said on Wednesday, after heated opposition in Congress to President Donald Trump's plan to slash funding for diplomacy and foreign aid.

"I've let Secretary Tillerson know there's a lot of concern about the budget issue," Senator Bob Corker, the committee's Republican chairman, said at a hearing on the global humanitarian crisis.

Members of the Senate panel will have lunch with Tillerson at the State Department on Thursday, he said.

Corker also made clear that when Congress takes up agriculture-related legislation next year he would push to reform current rules for distributing U.S. food aid, which make it more expensive and time-consuming to provide assistance after international crises.

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"We could feed 4 to 6 million more people each year," he said, saying some interest groups pushing to keep current rules are "extorting us."

Yves Daccord, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Somalia, plus Ethiopia and Kenya, may be among the worst in recent history.

"We're talking about 20 million directly affected, plus ... several other dozen millions possibly affected," Daccord told the hearing.

The ICRC said on Wednesday the world has just a few months to save millions in Yemen and Somalia from starvation, as war and drought ruin crops and block deliveries of food and medical care.

Many of Trump's fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, objected to his first budget outline last week, which boosted military spending and cut international programs by 28 percent. They said humanitarian assistance and diplomacy are at least as important to security as weapons.

"It's essential that we maintain our international affairs budget, from this senator's perspective," Republican Senator Todd Young told the hearing.

The budget as presented by Trump is unlikely to pass. Congress, not the White House, determines government spending.

Corker told reporters on Tuesday that he supported efforts to make State Department programs more efficient, but wanted a more thorough review of various programs.

"I think every department of government should be looked at continuously, and so I'm all for us looking into that," Corker said. "But I would like to walk through some of the areas that he (Tillerson) feels he wants to stress and obviously Congress ultimately will have the say (on the budget)."